By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
It’s common for toddlers to be picky eaters. While it’s not possible to entirely change your child’s food preferences, there are a number of things that you can do to help your baby accept more food choices right from the start. You can also modify your own actions to set up habits and routines that will picky-proof your child as he or she grows. All of these ideas are steps to healthy eating, so there’s no harm in giving them a try!
Watch baby’s habits
Work hard to install good habits and avoid unhealthy ones. If your child loves fresh fruit for breakfast make sure there’s always some in the house so that your little one will come to expect this as part of the first meal of the day. On the flip side, avoid serving a sweet desert after every meal as your baby will quickly come to expect this as a standard part of meals.
Avoid using food as a pacifier, a prize, or discipline tool
Don’t offer food as a way to stop your baby from fussing, or as a soother for times when your child is scared or hurt. Avoid promising sweets as a bribe for good behavior, or taking away goodies for bad behavior.
Serve small portions on small plates
Large servings can be a turn-off to a young child and can prevent you from accurately assessing the proper portion amount, so your child may eat more than needed. Allow requests for second helpings of healthy foods, and don’t make a big deal about food that is left on the plate uneaten. The “clean your plate” rule is old-fashioned and unhealthy.
Do a taste test before serving
Before you offer something new to your baby taste it first! Make sure the food is fresh and tasty. An accidental offering of a spoiled or unpleasant food can turn your baby off trying similar foods for a very long time.
Casually introduce many new foods
Offer your baby a wide variety of foods, always in small servings at first. Continue to offer a food over time, even if your baby isn’t interested, since the sight and smell of a new food is the first step before actually tasting it. It can take many exposures before your baby will be willing to taste something new, but each exposure takes you closer, so keep trying!
Keep mealtime relaxed
The food environment should be stress-free. Joyful meal times help babies start off with a positive experience at the dinner table, which wards off food battles in the future.
Don’t pressure your child to eat something
If your child turns his or her head away or makes a disgusted face, don’t force any more of the food at that sitting. Give baby something else that you know that he or she enjoys. This will set the stage for being open to trying new food next time.
Avoid giving your baby too many choices
If you offer a menu of choices at every meal and at every snack, then your child will quickly become used to this. If you offer up too many options now you’ll spend the next fifteen years as your child’s personal chef!
Show your own joy
Children learn from observation and they will pick up cues about what is good to eat from watching the adults in their life. So be sure that your baby learns some good habits from watching you enjoy a variety of healthful foods.