Introducing Food to Babies & Children (Practices of Eating)


Yesterday I wrote about encountering shame when eating.  My friend Jessica left a thoughtful comment about how eating for her growing up became rigid, shameful and anything but fun.  After reading her comment and the obvious pain it brought, it caused my heart to twitch and rethink about how have I been in welcoming my girls to the table.  

I thought I would break this post into to two parts.  Today, I will talk about introducing food, while tomorrow I will focus on the dinner table as a family.  

If you recall, I wrote about children and eating in the introduction of this series:

I remember from my Child Development class in college the professor talking about the two things parents cannot make a child do,
1. What they put into their body.
2. What comes out of their body.

Another point I remember from that same professor was the amount of times a food needed to be offered before a decision was made about the food.  Seven.  It takes seven times to try a food, before saying one doesn't like it.  Why does that matter?  Well, because as parents we get seven times to offer a food with our child tasting it every time before finally they can make a decision.  

It provides hope, because take broccoli for instance.  Offer it seven times raw, then seven times roasted, seven times sauteed, seven times steamed.  Because maybe it's not the actual food, but the way it's prepared.  

Here is how I've tackled the food issue in our home.  

1. Making it Pleasant

From introducing food to Caprice to dinner time with the older two, meals should be pleasant.  With Caprice not gaining weight too well, I was eager to find a means to get more calories in her.  Did I mention she wouldn't take formula?  Did I also mention I am not a dairy cow who pumps copious amounts of breastmilk?  Oh, and did I mention she began eating solids as an "I want to do it myself six month old?"  She wouldn't take being spoon fed much at all (I'll get to the whole baby led feeding).  

I had two choices, force her or take her cues despite her weight.  Since, she wasn't lethargic, still happy and active, we were not on any means needing to hook her up with a feeding tube.  I chose to back off, in order to make meal time a happy experience.  Now she's seven and half months and eats wonderfully and with gusto.  I'm convinced the more I harp (I'm not perfect and I do harp), the more resistance I get from my girls.  I don't want harping around food.

2. Feeding Babies

It's funny how big #babyledweaning or #babyledfeeding is these days.  It's kind of trendy in fact.  This is how I've done since beginning with Veronica for the most part.  I never pureed up food in a blender.  I read a book on keeping a bit of texture for babies first food.  The author advocated that mealtimes were more about kids getting use to eating and being a part of the family.  I couldn't agree more.

We did a mixture of feeding with a spoon and allowing our girls to go at it.  Since we've had weight gain issues, I've incorporated a little more spoon feeding at the get go to increase weight.  Knowing what I know now about grains, I haven't used baby cereals.  In fact, recent studies are showing that baby cereals are actually a poor first choice for baby's first foods.  Here's what we began with Caprice:

  1. Healthy Fats: coconut oil, coconut butter, avocados, EVOO, & grassfed butter.
  2. Veggies & Fruits: Squash, peas, pumpkin, applesauce, pears, bananas, sweet potatoes
  3. Proteins: Egg yolk only (hard-boil) from pastured chicken, and recently whole milk yogurt with live probiotics, poached chicken & salmon

We space 2-3 days between new introductions.  With vegetables & fruit, I mash some of them up, but don't make them into a puree.  I want her to get use to texture and gumming up food.  I add extra water if needed as she is my only babe who has stool issues (if you have any tips).  She took to gumming up chicken and salmon like a pro.  I have not had any choking issues.  She has even gnawed on a zucchini slice & green bean.  Again, eating is about welcoming our babes into the family table.  

3. No Thank You Bites

I remember hearing from good family friends on raising their children how they had a "no thank you" bite rule.  This resonated with me.  When trying out new foods, we have said, "I need you to take a no thank you bite before getting anything else."  Since our meals consist of protein, carb (in the form of veggie) and healthy fats, moving on to something else isn't loading up on empty carbs.  I like the idea of always giving something a try before making an opinion about it.

4. Wrapping Up Leftovers

One of our daughters is a squirrel eater.  In fact, she can say dramatically, "I'm so hungry!" one minute and then upon serving breakfast, not finish it.  My broken record, "Okay, if you're not hungry anymore now, then the next time you tell me you're hungry I'll warm this up for you to eat."  This is when that "No thank you bite" doesn't count.  I can hear mamas saying, "amen."  I'm not in the business of throwing out food, especially quality eggs from our friends.  

5. Setting up for Success

When planning a dinner menu, ensure there are reliable meals for the family.  And that doesn't mean you have to go with kid-friendly food in the form of nuggets or mini-pizzas.  For instance, my girls rather enjoy roasted cauliflower; but, I would love to fancy it up by adding curry or something more.  However, the time I did add curry, it only went over well with Ben and me.  I tone it down a bit, but I also don't make food bland.  

6. Giving them Options

When doing snacks, making lunch, dinner or even breakfast, I often offer choices on at least one portion of the meal.  Not always, because time doesn't permit.  However, I do offer what I have time for and what I'm willing to give them.  I'm okay with saying, "Do you want carrots or broccoli?," to which they respond, "apples?"  I take stock in my mind, "have they already had enough fruit today or not?"  If not, I say sure.  If so, then I say, "You know, I think we've had enough fruit today and need some veggies.  

7. Teaching Nutrition without Shame

What I want to give my girls is the gift of knowing their food.  I don't want them to feel guilt about eating something less than ideal, because we all do that now and again.  What I want to do is give them the tools to make healthy choices for themselves.  To know how their bodies work to be at their best.  Truth is, they will come to an age and not be under my care and be given opportunity to eat chips, soda, etc.  I want to teach them how to shop for food, look for quality ingredients, plan and cook based on their protein, carb & fat.  And above all, enjoy it.  

They will ask why we don't have certain food in the house.  My response, "Well, our bodies need food to give us energy.  Certain food gives us lots of energy to run, play & think well, while other food doesn't do that."  And with kids being so black and white on things, they often assume that if you even look at sugary items you're slain.  So, I tell them it's okay to have ice cream, or a cookie, it's just important we don't eat them all the time.  Our bodies don't need them, but it's simply fun and they sure taste good.  

8. Eat Your Dessert

Lastly, I believe in living life.  If you know me, know my heart for relationships, you know that I believe in also taking part in celebrations and people living.  Meaning, I don't want my kids to grow up in a house where they never see ice cream, cookies, or brownies, only to binge on them once they do encounter it.  I'm sure you can relate, "don't drink, it's bad," "don't have sex until you're married," "Kill Your TV," "Whole food bandwagon."  

What I have found is when children are not given tools to become critical thinkers & inquirers about life, our family core values will mean nothing.  Simply being told what not to do is not enough.  It doesn't mean we let loose our convictions, it means we teach, guide and nurture our relationships with our children with open dialogue.  

***Disclaimer: There is a difference between picky eater and an oral-motor/sensory defensive eater.  The latter is a child who needs intervention from an Occupational Therapist and Speech Language Pathologist.  Some children have Sensory Processing Disorder and are tactile defensive, meaning the sheer feel of most foods grates on them.  Their sensory system is hyper-vigilant and they go through OT & Speech to work on integrating touch into their sensory diets.  This child is quite different from a child who has the ability to eat food, but doesn't want to.  

Your turn, what are your food practices with babies & children?


 You're reading the 'Practices of Eating' series, come join the conversation below.  

You're reading the 'Practices of Eating' series, come join the conversation below.