Eating healthy and enjoying food is part of our family culture. My partner and I love making intricate meals with a variety of spices. Our spice cabinet is one of my prized places, four shelves stocked full of global deliciousness.
When my son started solid foods at 6 months, we had two family values as goals:
To be brave eaters who will try new foods.
To instill a culture of family meal time.
To be brave eaters…
I didn’t start off as a brave eater myself. I remember forcing my parents to take off the tomatoes and the onions from my hamburgers and eating them plain. I refused to eat the crab my family was gorging on and I clearly remember feeling disgusted by some of the food my friends ate growing up. At some point this changed thankfully. Now I’m willing to try anything at least once. Yep, even maggots cooked in a campfire in the middle of the Amazon jungle. They promised it was a delicacy and it actually tasted like super sweet corn. What a surprise!
With this as my goal I implemented the following practices.
Making my own baby food
It’s my goal to share a variety of foods with my little one and let’s be honest, those food packets/jars just don’t cut it when it comes to variety. My immersion blender came with a small food processor and it’s perfect for making just a few servings of fruits and veggies, especially in the beginning when everything needed to be in smoothie form. Everytime I go grocery shopping I pick up something new to try. I started with easy fruits and veggies we already had in the house: strawberries, blueberries, bananas, carrots, broccoli, and kale. Eventually, we got to seasonal foods such as: watermelon, mango (he loves mango), turnips, parsnips, and heirloom tomatoes.We also eat a lot of the same food, so he’s trying food with spices (not too hot - I really like spicy food) and food prepared how we like it. For example, I always make him his morning egg scrambled in coconut oil with salt and pepper. We love cumin carrots and the first time he tried them, we a lot of “mmm’s” from the little guy. His favorite by far, is my partner’s famous bison meatballs, seasoned with garam masala, garlic and other spices.
I saved a bunch of small glass jars and have been using these to store baby food as it’s prepared. Honestly, I only need to make food every *few days and it doesn’t take long to steam or boil and blend. I usually do it while I’m prepping dinner and in the kitchen anyway. My baby sits next to me in his bumbo and I give him teething crackers, puffs or bits of food to entertain him while I cook. Did I mention this is also much cheaper?!
My days of having to blend his food are already coming to a close. It’s really such a short a window of time.
Just like many things with a new baby, once you get the hang of it - bam! The next stage hits and you have to find a new groove.
*you can also do a week’s worth in one day and just freeze in ice cube trays or freezable pouches
Trying foods over and over
I distinctly remember being at a friend’s house when I was a child and I was forced to eat spinach that was boiled and covered in vinegar. It was disgusting! The thing was, I liked spinach. I usually ate it raw in salad or mixed into other foods like saag paneer (love that Indian dish!). How a food is prepared can make all the difference to determine if we like it or not.
Did you know that children need to try a food 5-10 times or sometimes up to 30 times before they can confidently say if they like it? (Lisa Hielscher, pediatric occupational therapist). This goes for babies too. I realized through experimenting that my baby is affected by texture. For example, the texture of avocado is on his yuck list. However, if I mix avocado and tomato, kind of like guacamole, HE LOVES IT! Eventually he was willing to eat banana and avocado plain, but it took some time for him to get used to it.
Don’t give up if you try to give your child kale once or twice and they spit it out. They are supposed to - it is evolution’s way of making sure they didn’t eat poisonous plants long ago. Try making it different ways or adding different spices until you find what they like and don’t like. So far my little one is 11 months old and he will eat everything - as long as I prepare it the way he likes it. I’m learning and so is he, building our relationship around mealtimes along the way.
Importance of finger foods
Sometime around 9 to 11 months, your little one is going to start flexing their autonomy muscles. They are starting to get around on their own and they want to experiment as much as possible and BE IN CHARGE. You see this with food too. At some point, they lose their patience for waiting for that next bite of mush you feed them. They want to feed themselves! This is an important skill. They are working on their pincer grasp (thumb & index finger) to pick up tiny objects. Later on this helps them learn how to write, a key skill for school readiness.
Maybe they’ve been refusing those mashed carrots all along but then you steam some carrots and give them little chunks to pick up on there own and now they’ve eaten a whole bowl. So try foods again when you’ve reached this milestone.
To instill a culture of family meal time...
Eating together as a family is very important to me. This is the time when we put down our cell phones, we look each other in the eye and we talk about our day (talking to Alexa is okay too). Even before my little one was eating solid foods, he would sit in a bouncy chair right next to us and engage in the family conversation, cheers and all. We made sure to get a high chair that was the same level as the table and made a space for him so he always felt like part of the family. We ask him questions and answer for him so he can practice back and forth conversations. He eats a lot of the food that we do, so he sees us as a family all eating the same thing. This keeps him interested in trying new foods, especially when he sees my partner and I enjoying it so much. When he eats something he really likes, you hear him saying “mmmmm” the entire time. It’s hilarious, infectious, and amazing.
I know there will be expressions of will over food (“yuck, I don’t want that!”) in my future, but I’m making a concerted effort to not play into the power struggle (it takes two). My little one can decide on his own what he likes and what he doesn’t. I want him to have the power and control over what he puts in his body and the education to know how and why to make healthy choices.
If you are getting ready to start solids, here are a couple of resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics.