Introduction of solid food to your infant or toddler can be a stressful time in any parent’s life. A child that had been exclusively breast or bottle fed up until that point may not understand the new source of nutrition as it is not innate and toddlers who may have been exposed to sweeter foods may find the vegetables not to their liking. However, there are a few surefire ways to get your child on the right track and save you a ton of headaches!
Encourage self-feeding early
While your baby will naturally start to want to do things his or herself around the 12 months stage, it is prudent to start the motions towards self-feeding around the age of 6 months. At BBy, we recommend that parents start placing the child’s hands on the bottle after 26 weeks if he or she has not already started doing so. While the fine motor skills needed to self-feed from a bottle can take as much as 10 months to develop, you can help the transition by sharing bottle holding duties with your little one. As he or she becomes more adept at this process you will also notice that baby will concurrently be entering the self-care phase of growth around the same time. This will greatly help as you begin to introduce solid foods in your baby’s diet, but don’t forget breast milk should be the only liquid your child is consuming for the first 12 months of life!
Find utensils your baby likes using
As mashed foods turn into soft foods, you’ll notice that your baby will love eating the various fruits and veggies and super boiled pasta (month 12 onwards, tomato sauce month 13 onwards) that you offer him or her. But to discourage finger use and help promote fine motor skills it’s important to find a comfortable plastic fork and spoon set for your child. Babies love mimicking mom and dad at this stage in life, so instead of feeding your child guide the spoon into his or her mouth together (gently holding the hand). This is still a curious time for your child and he or she will likely not deny eating whatever you put in front of them, so be sure to get the habits down pat before your little one turns into a decidedly less “little one”.
Picky eaters don’t get special treatment
As the terrible two's approach, all children get a little picky; some more than others. As a parent you definitely want to introduce many different healthy food but you should take care to not let them overindulge on any one item. This is difficult because a toddler, who is already starting to eat less, is also someone who likes to eat single items at a time and then move onto the next. This is what breeds the picky eater and the best ways to avoid this pickiness isn’t to force them to eat but simply give them very small amounts of many different options. Dazzling food colors on a plate are very enticing and sharing the fun with your toddler will ensure they try as many of the things as possible. So remember to not indulge their pickiness but celebrate the variedness of the foods we eat.
Dress up veggies in creative ways
Toddlers should be consuming 2 tablespoons of vegetables 3 to 5 times a day. I know that sounds daunting, especially when your guy won’t even look at a broccoli, but have you ever looked at broccoli? Why would someone choose that over a nice fruit?! So go ahead and get creative with preparation. Give them a sauce like natural peanut butter for celery to dip it in, or guacamole or yogurt, maybe boil the veggies like you did when he or she was an infant or give them some pizzazz by cutting everything into shapes. However you do it just remember, you’re smarter than your child, you can convince them to eat. And when in doubt, make a kid friendly smoothie with veggies, milk, honey or peanut butter.
Don’t worry about the time of day
Getting your toddler to eat three to five times a day is important so that he or she is acclimated to a normal eating schedule as he or she gets older, but do they have to eat eggs in the morning and richer foods at night? When your picky eater just HAS to have his favorite meal at 8am, make a deal. Show him or her the meal you were going to prepare and then show the meal he or she wants, make it perfectly clear that you are willing to let them eat the chosen meal now but the next meal will have to be the prepared meal. You’re mom or dad! Autonomy in a child is important, but you still set the rules and by showing that mommy or daddy is flexible but not breakable will go a long way towards the bond you create going forward.
Reward them, but save sweets and sugary food for later childhood
We as adults have to be conscious of childhood obesity, while also not being cruel to a growing palate. Desserts should not be a daily occurrence nor should they even be a weekly one especially the first 3 to 4 years of life. And more to the point, dessert shouldn’t be sugary cakes and chocolates and ice cream. Of course, it is ok to very sparingly give your little one a sweet treat (and they will love it) it should be rare enough that it is more than exciting every time, it is foreign, a new flavor sensation. Fruits offer the same levels of sugars in a much healthier wrapper and should be the basis for all desserts until your child is of pre-k age and will be exposed to wider desserts. So is your toddler doing what you ask this week, eating his or her meals and excelling at potty training? Go ahead and give him or her a fruit medley or natural fruit cup, you’ll have plenty of time over the next decade to let them experience a chocolate cake.
Vansh Langer, MD is a physician from Albany, NY, and Founder and CEO of BBy, the physician created milksharing app for android and iOS that connects nursing mothers and new parents to buy and sell breast milk in a safe and reliable manner. BBy's revolutionary milk sharing is helping eliminate preventable infant mortalities and empower mothers to take control of their finances.
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