Encourage a Veggie-loving Baby
Babies develop their food preferences earlier than you think. When babies start to eat solids between 4 and 6 months, they have progressed from seeing mostly in black and white to experiencing the transformation of seeing in color. Just think what fruits and vegetables must look like to a young child! They are putting everything in their mouth to make sense out of the world around them. Your baby’s curiosity is driving him to investigate his surroundings. He is advancing from just seeing, hearing and smelling to interacting with his environment. His tongue-thrust reflex disappears and he wants to explore new tastes to develop his likes and dislikes, too. If you give certain foods repeatedly at this time in his life, he’ll acquire a taste for those foods more easily than at any other time in his life. This window of opportunity is short. By the time your child is a toddler, he will probably have developed a preference for certain foods. In fact, a child can develop a fear of new foods, too.
Unfortunately, most babies have only experienced eating processed baby food, which does not have the same flavor of fresh food. This may be why your baby rejects a fresh fruit when they are accustomed to the taste of a fruit from a jar. Babies can eat the same food you are eating. It just has to be cooked longer and mashed or cut in small pieces that will easily be consumed by a baby with limited teeth. When you are introducing a new food, you need to be patient. You may need to offer a new food six to ten times before he is comfortable with the taste or texture.
Take advantage of your child’s new sense of sight and smell and offer a brightly colored food at each meal. This is also the best time to say the name of the fruit and vegetable so he pairs the sounds you make to the food. Think of your baby eating the colors of the rainbow. He is able to eat yellow (bananas, yellow squash), orange (carrots, sweet potato, cantaloupe), red (watermelon, tomato, strawberry) purple (plums, berries, beets, eggplant) and green (avocados, spinach, peas).
Dr. Alan Greene, the author of Feeding Baby Green, recommends feeding your baby before the age of one from the 21 different plant families. Make sure the texture is safe for your baby to swallow. The plant families include:
Mushrooms: shitake, Portobello
Woody trees: banana
Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower
Myrtles: guava, cloves, allspice
Umbrelifers: carrot, celery, cilantro, dill (cooked or chopped fine)
Heath Plants: blueberry, cranberry
Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas
Gourds: cucumber, pumpkin, winter squashes, watermelon, zucchini
Composites: artichoke, lettuces, creamy sunflower butter
Sesame: sesame butter
Lilies: asparagus, chive, garlic, onion
Rosy plants: apple, apricot, blackberry, cherry, peach, pear, plum, raspberry, strawberry
Grapes: grapes (make sure they are chopped)
Citrus plants: grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange
Nightshades: eggplant, red & yellow peppers, white potatoes
Laurels: avocado, cinnamon, bay leaves
Amarantha: spinach, Swiss chard, beet
True grasses: barley, oats, brown rice
Blindweeds: sweet potato
It is important for your baby to see you eating healthy foods. They imitate everything you say AND do. There are mixed reports about how many different foods you should introduce at one time. It is probably best to introduce one new food at a time if you are concerned about possible allergies. There isn’t conclusive research to back this finding. Also, some children have difficulty with egg whites, strawberries, nuts, honey, gluten and dairy products. A speech pathologist also can evaluate if a child that is not properly sucking, chewing or swallowing his food. This can be the result of muscle weakness, coordination difficulties or the timing of the swallow reflex.
In my next blog I will have what foods to introduce at what time. Stay tuned!
Always discuss with your pediatrician or health care provider about your baby’s nutrition if you have questions or concerns.
– Kathy Gruhn, MA CCC-SLP, author of My Baby Compass series