Watching your baby taste real food for the first time is one of the most exciting milestones for a new parent to witness. Your baby’s life suddenly becomes more fun and interesting (not to mention messy!), and your daily routine as a parent changes too. But starting solids can also be confusing - especially for first-time parents.
Should you start solids at four or six months? Should you only serve purees or should you jump right into finger foods like your friend did? And what about common allergens like peanut butter and eggs?
You’ve likely heard many conflicting and confusing messages around first foods, which can be frustrating. Luckily, registered dietitians like myself and organizations such as the Egg Farmers of Canada are helping new parents navigate the confusing messages around starting solids since the guidelines have recently changed...for the better!
The new infant feeding guidelines, issued by Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada all recommend introducing solids around six months of age. Usually, this is when your baby shows signs of readiness such as sitting up on her own and showing interest in solids. Iron-rich foods should be introduced right from the get-go, as your baby's iron needs increase around this time. Iron is an important mineral for brain health and red blood cell production. Although babies have a reserve built up from being in the womb, at about six months it starts to deplete and a daily dose of iron-rich solid foods is needed to keep your baby physically and developmentally healthy.
It’s now recommended that babies be introduced to a variety of textures within the first few months of starting solids—spoon-feeding purees is no longer the one and only way. In fact, you can jump right in with soft finger foods if you feel comfortable with it, just like I did with my daughter.
The new guidelines also suggest that parents need not delay the introduction of common allergens such as whole, well-cooked eggs, peanuts, and fish. These foods may now be introduced as early as six months because we now know that early introduction can help to prevent food allergies later on. My daughter's first food was a hard-boiled egg cut into quarters. She loved it and has enjoyed eggs regularly ever since.
As a mom and a dietician, I love that eggs have six grams of high-quality protein and 14 essential nutrients. They are also a natural source of choline, a nutrient that plays an important role in brain development. Not only are eggs one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, they are also extremely versatile, economical, and easy to prepare. They have a mild texture and taste that babies love and they are easy for them to self-feed, chew and digest. Eggs, in fact, are an excellent, yet largely overlooked first food option for babies.
When my kids were babies, we would often make baked poached eggs (crack whole eggs into greased or non-stick muffin tins and bake at 375F until hard boiled) because they made for such an easy, nutritious meal or snack. I will definitely be doing this again when baby #3 starts solids.
Here are three more of our favourite egg recipes that babies can pick up and eat themselves starting at six months of age:
These mini snacks are great for on-the-go or for a quick meal. They also freeze very well.
6 whole eggs
1/3 cup water, breast milk, formula or milk, depending on age of baby (whole cow’s milk should not be introduced until 9 months)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup carrots, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375F and grease a 24-cup mini muffin tin.
Whisk eggs, water or milk and garlic powder together.
Add grated carrot and zucchini and whisk until combined.
Using a tablespoon measure, spoon mixture into muffin tins.
Sprinkle grated cheese on top of each muffin.
Place in the oven and bake for 20-minutes.
Remove from oven and allow 10-minutes to cool.
Makes 24 mini muffins
Made with ground meat, oats, eggs, and veggies, these meatballs are a finger food your baby will love. They also freeze well and make for great leftovers!
1lb of lean ground meat (I usually use extra lean ground beef or bison)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup grated or chopped veggies (I use a combo of grated carrot, chopped spinach, and grated zucchini)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp garlic powder
other dried herbs (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F and line or grease a baking sheet.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with clean hands.
Form into 24 medium-sized balls and place on a lined, greased, or non-stick baking sheet.
Place in the oven and bake for 12-minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 170F.
Makes 24 meatballs
These muffins are moist and delicious. They are a healthy option for breakfast (or any meal) as well as snacks.
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup whole milk, or unsweetened almond milk (whole milk shouldn’t be introduced until at least 9 months)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar - optional (you may leave this out, especially for babies younger than 9 months)
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
3 small peeled apples or pears, chopped finely
Preheat oven to 375F and grease a muffin tin (or mini muffin tin).
In a large bowl, mix together eggs, bananas, milk, packed brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until blended well.
Mix oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl.
Combine wet and dry ingredients. Add chopped apple or pear and combine until well blended.
Fill muffin tins almost to the top (they don't expand too much).
Bake for 25 mins or until golden brown.
Makes 12 regular muffins or 24 mini muffins
There's no doubt that mealtimes with young kids are chaotic. I often brace myself before we sit down to dinner, knowing that frustrating things will happen - my son might reject some or all of the foods that I've served, veggies might not get eaten, my daughter might throw something off her tray or there might be a spill or two to clean up.
Even though mealtimes are rarely peaceful when you're in the "trenches" of parenthood, family meals are still imperative to creating healthy eating habits, bonding as a family, and nurturing your kids' long-term relationship with food. To minimize mealtime battles and make meals as enjoyable and positive as possible for you and your family, I've sourced out some advice from the top picky eating experts around. They've taken the time to share their favourite phrases that they use with their own kids (and added some of my own in there) at the table.
Here are the top 15 transformative phrases to use with your fussy eaters at mealtime:
"It sounds like you're done. Listen to your tummy to make sure that it is happy and full, because the next eating time isn't until tomorrow at breakfast. "
Kids often declare that they are "done" after hardly touching their meal or after only a few bites. This may be because they are actually physically full for whatever reason, because they are distracted, because they don't like what was served, or because they want to go play. But because it should be their job to determine if and how much they eat at mealtime, we have to respect the fact that they are finished. At the same time, we want to remind them to "listen to their tummies" and give them plenty of warning as to when the next eating opportunity will be so that they can re-think their decision just in case.
"It's okay that you don't want to taste that food. Instead, you could touch it, feel it, or lick it to get to know it better."
It's not a good idea to pressure our kids to eat a particular food at mealtimes--it can actually make them more wary of it than they were before. Instead, take the pressure off by letting them know that it's okay not to taste or eat a food, but that they are free to explore it in other less scary ways, like touching, playing with, feeling, smushing, stacking, licking or smelling it (without being rude or disruptive). These are all positive steps towards eventually accepting a food.
"There is ___ (20, 15, 10, 5) minutes left on the timer for dinner tonight. Then the buzzer will go off and the kitchen will be closed until tomorrow at breakfast."
If you have a slow eater (takes 35- 45 minutes or longer to finish a meal), it might be a good idea to set a timer with a buzzer at mealtimes (with 15, 10, 5 minute warnings) so that kids can better learn to self-regulate their food intake (and have enough time to become hungry for the next meal or snack). Meals shouldn't take more than 20-30 minutes to finish, and setting a timer for chronically slow eaters is a good way to set a healthy boundary around timing for meals.
"You don't have to try it."
Sally Kuzemchuk, MS, RD of Real Mom Nutrition says "you don't have to try it" if her kids make a fuss over a new food. "I try to be as casual as possible. We don't have a one-bite rule in our house so they don't have to taste something if they don't want to" she says. Sally writes about why she's not a fan of the one bite rule in her blog post "Why I Don't Make My Kids Have Just One Bite." Here's Sally's Facebook page.
"It seems like you are finding it hard to sit still tonight. Do you need to get up and shake out your wiggles before you sit back down? Or should we try putting the stool under your feet so that you feel more stable?"
It's important to allow plenty of time before meals for active play and to "get wiggles out," but toddlers and preschoolers are often restless at the dinner table even on the most active days. Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD stresses the importance of putting something solid and steady under your child's feet during mealtimes. She writes on her blog "while eating is a priority for our bodies, there are two priorities that supersede eating: 1) breathing; and, 2) staying upright (i.e. not falling on our heads). When your child’s feet aren’t resting on something solid, their bodies are required to focus on not falling over. This takes away from the focus on the task of eating. Babies and young children under 3 years of age are still novice eaters and they need to pay full attention to the task of eating. By providing a solid footrest, you’re removing a big source of distraction."
"I understand that you would like more ___ (bread, pasta, rice etc.) but we need lots of different foods to grow and become strong--not just one. Before we have more bread, let's explore around the circle."
Kids should be allowed to have as much of one particular food as they want at a meal, even if it's just bread. The important thing is to always serve a variety of foods at meals, and encourage your child to explore each food before having more of their favourite. This could mean that she touches, licks, feels or tastes foods around her plate before having more of her favourite. More on this strategy here: Why you should get your kids to eat around the circle.
"I understand that you want a snack, but snacktime was over a while ago, and the kitchen will be open again at dinner time which is in ___ minutes (15, 20 etc.). What would you like to do until that time?" (give two to three options)
Allowing kids to "graze" between meals is a recipe for picky eating. It's our job as parents to set appropriate boundaries around timing of meals and snacks. Meals and snacks should be timed 2-4 hours a part depending on age. When your child requests a snack when it's not time yet, kindly respond by telling them that it's not time for a snack, but that there will be a future eating opportunity at __ time. I talk more about this in my post Why This Well-Meaning Habits is Enabling Your Picky Eater.
"You don't have to eat, but you do need to sit at the table. Mealtime is also about family time."
Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, Author and blogger over at Raise Healthy Eaters wrote a fantastic blog post about how powerful the words "you don't have to eat" are when it comes to picky eaters. She writes "When we make eating about the parent’s will versus the child’s will, the joy and connection of eating gets lost. Some parents may win the battle and feel good that their child eats the way they want them to eat, but deep down the child may be full of resentment, eating peas to please his parents and not because he enjoys eating them." Here is Maryann's facebook page.
"You can have your dessert with your meal, or afterwards. Your choice."
Caitlin Boudreau, MS, RD of Wee Nourish likes to give her toddler the choice of having dessert with his meal (alondside his other foods), or afterwards. She says "this one has been working well with our toddler. It takes "dessert" off a pedestal and allows him to make that decision." Here is Caitlin's facebook page.
"How can we make this food yummier for you?"
Sometimes all it takes is a dollop of ketchup, a bit of ranch dip, a sprinkling of cheese, or "red confetti" (a few craisins) to make a food taste yummier.
"This is sweet just like the strawberries you like; these are crisp and crunchy just like crackers; this is juicy like watermelon..."
Jill Castle, childhood nutrition expert, author and blogger over at Just The Right Byte says "I always highlighted the qualities of the food that were familiar to my kids as a prep so they could anticipate what was coming. Kids like things to be predictable and if you can give them lots of info upfront it helps them ease in because it's somewhat familiar to a reference point they already have. Here is Jill's facebook page.
"Mmmmm. I forgot how much I love butternut squash..."
Instead of saying "why don't you try a bite of this butternut squash," or "you love butternut squash," model healthy eating by eating it yourself and expressing pleasure (without being too over the top). When kids see that you enjoy eating certain foods without feeling pressure to eat it themselves, they will be more open to trying it (whether it's now or in the future). It makes that food normal and more safe for them to eventually try.
"It sound like you're hungry. Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes, but there is a veggie tray and dip sitting on the table if you'd like to nibble beforehand. "
I recently wrote about the fact that kids are more likely to eat their veggies if those veggies don't have to compete with other "yummier" foods on their plate at mealtime. This is why I put a veggie tray with dip out before dinner almost nightly--the kids nibble away before dinner, which takes the pressure off to eat lots of veggies at mealtime (even though I still include veggies at dinner), and keeps them busy while I prep.
"It's okay, you don't have to like everything or food xyz, but great job for trying it."
By praising your child for being brave and trying a new food, you're giving him the confidence to continue exploring it, pressure-free (note: this is quite different from praising your child for EATING a food, which isn't the best idea). This way, you're praising the fact that he's being brave and adventuresome, not that he's eating a particular food.
Katie Serbinski, MS, RD shared this phrase and says, "This lets my son know I'm not upset with him for not liking a food and that ultimately I want him to have control over his feelings/attitudes at mealtimes (and that I respect his choice). It doesn't mean I won't try serving it again, but I'm not forcing him to eat it." Katie is founder of www.MomToMomNutriton.com and shares her latest posts and kid's nutrition advice on her Facebook Page.
What about you? Do you have a favourite mealtime phrase that works like a charm at your table?
For free daily tips, tricks and advice on picky eating and feeding in general, check out my Facebook page!
Every child will go through some sort of "picky eating" stage or exhibit picky eating tendencies at some point. For the most part, these behaviours (although frustrating) are completely normal. The trickiest part is learning to handle these stages in a patient, calm, and loving way. The way we react to picky eating as parents can either create bigger, more serious eating issues down the road, or can help a child grow her relationship with food in a healthy way.
Kids learn at their own pace. Whether it’s riding a bike, tying shoes, reading, or eating new foods, we as parents need to respect the pace at which our child takes to learn, and practice lots of patience in the process.
Here are some examples of frustrating but normal "picky eating" habits exhibited by toddlers or preschool-aged kids and advice on how to react (and how NOT to react) in order to grow healthy, confident eaters. Breathe easy knowing that these habits are completely normal:
Happily gobbling up your homemade chili one day and then rejecting the leftovers (100% the same food) the next is frustrating and perplexing for parents, but completely normal. Similarly, accepting a previously rejected food out of the blue is also normal. Young children are unpredictable when it comes to eating, and as parents it's important that we don't assume, that we stay calm and rational, and that we react in a way that will nurture long-term healthy eating habits rather than create bigger issues. There are many possible reasons why a child suddenly rejects a meal or food that he normally accepts. Here are some common reasons:
- He's simply not hungry: For whatever reason, your child may not be hungry when a meal or snack is offered--even if it doesn't make sense to you or doesn't fit into the daily schedule. The tricky part is respecting our child's appetite as the parent. We often ask our kids to defy their natural hunger and fullness cues by "having 3 bites" or "just one bite" when really, our kids are being intuitive about their eating. When we start trying to control if and how much our kids eat at meals, our kids actually learn NOT to trust their own hunger and eat according to external cues. It's important to set boundaries around timing of meals and snacks so that eating isn't a free-for-all, and it's just as important to let our kids be in charge of how much they eat at these times.
- He's too distracted: Siblings, screens and toys can distract a child so much that they don't eat. It's important to remove screens and toys from the table so that kids can focus on their food and self-regulate their intake. It's also important to set boundaries around behaviour at the table between siblings and friends. At our house, we make sure that our kids have enough space between eachother so they can't poke, push, or play during meals.
- He's bored of it: My son recently started rejecting his usual oatmeal breakfast that I serve almost every day and that he's loved since he was a baby. Although it broke my heart a little (I never thought he's grow tired of it, and it's such a healthy breakfast!), instead of forcing, bribing or bartering him into eating it, I put on my creative cap and asked him "what would make the oatmeal yummier for you?!" In turns out that "red confetti" (a sprinkling of craisins) made all the difference. Asking this simple question might turn a boring food into a yummy food, or simply adding more variety to meals and snacks can change the game (or changing a small part of it). As adults we grow bored and tired of foods from time to time the difference is that kids are more vocal about it!
This is often seen as a negative or rude reacion, when really it should be positive. The other night, I gave my two-year-old daughter kidney beans with her dinner, and she first reacted by saying "yucky" when she saw them, but then tried putting it in her mouth and then immediately spat it out. Many parents would assume that this meant she hated it--that she just doesn't like beans--when really it was a normal reaction to a new and unfamiliar food.
The fact that she put it in her mouth was huge--she felt comfortable enough to taste it even though it was completely foreign to her. I smiled and said "good job for trying!" and didn't probe her to try it again. I knew that she had just taken the first big step to accepting kidney beans down the road--she just wasn't ready yet.
Give your kids permission to taste a food and then politely spit it out in a napkin if they don't like it. If they do, make sure that you react positively and praise them for being brave and trying something new. It will increase the chances of them accepting it in the future!
Your appetite changes from day to day and meal to meal. So does your child’s! If you notice that your toddler or young child is full or not interested anymore, even after a few bites, don’t force-feed or pressure him to keep going. Your child is respecting his hunger and fullness cues, and so should you.
As frustrating as it is to watch your gourmet meal go to waste, calmly remove the plate, store the food in a container, and save it for later. Tomorrow your child may be famished and ask for seconds. Your child may have “hungry days” where he out-eats adult family members, and “full days” where he doesn’t eat much at all. This is all part of normal eating!
My almost five-year-old son, Ben, often out-eats my husband (who is six feet, two inches tall!), asking for seconds of everything at the table. We try our best not to react, although I am often tempted to say “holy smokes, Ben!” and I’m sure my husband is tempted to give him a high five. We calmly oblige, reminding him to “listen to his tummy,” knowing that he is being intuitive and eating according to his internal hunger cues. I often realize that he had been extra active that day, or perhaps that he is going through a growth spurt. It all seems to even out throughout the week, especially when I notice the following day that he only eats a small portion of breakfast.
Another common eating issue with toddlers and preschoolers is the “food jag,” whereby a child requests the same food (or two foods) over and over again and refuses to eat anything else. It's important to know that this stage is very normal and may happen at many times throughout childhood. As parents, we can't force our children to widen their palates during this finicky stage. And unfortunately, the easiest solution of giving in to your child's desire for the same food daily will only increase the severity and duration of the food jag.
It's important to resist the urge to play "short-order cook" and cater to his narrow palate. Instead, continue to offer a variety of foods at meals and snacks (once in a while including his beloved food), leaving it up to him whether or not he eats it and how much he eats. The process of learning to accept and like a food can be tedious and tiresome, but you will see that it is worth it.
Although extremely frustrating, the phrase "I'm hungry, can I have a snack?" shortly after a meal is fairly normal. The important thing is how we as parents react to these snack requests and that we do what we can to try to avoid them in the future. I've written about why allowing kids to "graze" throughout the day isn't a good idea, and as hard as it is to turn down a snack request (especially when you know that your child actually IS hungry), it's important that we set boundaries and stick with them. Young kids should have eating opportunities every 2-4 hours depending on age--not more frequently than that. Otherwise they won't learn to self-regulate their appetite or intake.
Just the other night, my four-year-old went to bed hungry because he chose not to eat his dinner and instead held out for a bedtime snack, even when I reminded him repeatedly that the "kitchen will be closed" after dinner and that there would be no snack (there was only an hour and a half before bedtime). I made sure to serve a variety of foods at dinner, most of which he enjoyed, and reminded him to eat until his "tummy was full." I did my job as the parent, but my little guy didn't do his job and instead went to bed feeling hungry. Although it was really hard for me to turn his snack request down and stick to my guns, I was happy I did, because the next day he made sure to eat enough dinner so that he wouldn't need a snack before bed.
Read more on how to end the "graze craze."
There is a period of “flavor plasticity” where babies are more likely to accept new flavours (even bitter vegetables!) early on if exposed often, especially in the first few months of starting solids. They are more willing to eat them even though they taste them intensely. Although every child is different, this plasticity period is short, so that’s why toddlers often reject bitter flavours, even if they used to love them. And it gets worse if they’ve never been exposed to those bitter flavours before —there’s more of a chance that they’ll accept bitter foods as a toddler if they’ve been exposed multiple times in infancy. And of course, toddlers and preschoolers have the cognitive ability to react intensely and show displeasure to a taste as compared to infants.
Bitter tastes, in historical times, signaled "toxic" or "unsafe," so this is one of the reasons why children tend to reject them (even when they previously gobbled them up) and why it’s so important to introduce a variety of veggies when first introducing solids.
The good news is that taste buds continue to change, so veggie rejection won't last forever. In the meantime, you can try adding more pleasing flavours to naturally bitter vegetables. Try:
This is very normal, especially when it comes to toddlers and young kids. There could be several reasons why your little one won't sit still--she hasn't had enough exercise or play before her meal, she's tired or distracted, or she's not comfortable at the table for whatever reason.
One of the biggest and most over-looked reasons why kids won't sit still--and therefore often don't eat well--at meals, is because their feet aren't resting on a solid surface. Kristen Yarker, Registered Dietitian write about this over on her blog. She says, "The reason is that while eating is a priority for our bodies, there are two priorities that supersede eating: 1) breathing; and, 2) staying upright (i.e. not falling on our heads). When your child’s feet aren’t resting on something solid, their bodies are required to focus on not falling over. This takes away from the focus on the task of eating. Babies and young children under 3 years of age are still novice eaters and they need to pay full attention to the task of eating. By providing a solid footrest, you’re removing a big source of distraction. "
Kristen suggests using highchairs that are adjustable, or creating a footrest for your child-- inexpensive footstools (usually used at the bathroom sink) work well.