Saturday, September 12, 2015

10 Quick Tips for Helping Your Baby Learn to Love Fruits & Veggies

how to get your kids to eat fruits and veggies
Baby A loves to eat vegetables straight from the garden!

As the mom of two kids who actually eat vegetables (and like them - most of the time), I am often asked how the heck this happens:

Yes, that really is my baby. And yes, he really did eat almost that whole plate of vegetables. He had beets, olives, peas, cucumbers, baby tomatoes, zucchini shreds, garbanzo beans, croutons and carrot shreds (he left most of the carrot shreds).

I have another post coming up about how to help older kids eat veggies without a fight - but today I'm going to start with tips aimed at pregnant moms and moms of babies - because a big part of how food is a non-issue in our home is because we are very strategic about how we handle their first experiences with food.

If you don't have a baby, that's ok! We will have Part 2 later this week to share ways to help big kids (and even the "very veggie averse") get their veg on!
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Tip 1: Start with Veggies

The first foods you feed your baby are going to help create the map in their head about food that they will refer to for years. For the last few decades, the makers of baby cereals have been pushing infant rice cereal as an ideal first food. Do not give into this hype!

Not only are baby cereals horribly bland and textureless, they are so processed I don't think they can rightly be called "food" any more. Don't take my word for it, though: Respected pediatrician, Dr. Greene has a great article about why you should skip baby food (cereals) all together.

Instead, start your baby off with easy to digest veggies like smashed avocado, banana, squash or sweet potato. Mix it with a little filtered water or expressed breast milk (or formula, if that's what baby has been eating) to make it smooth. The texture and taste will beat the stuff in the box and it's a great start to a food map!

Tip 2: Fresh is Best

If possible, I highly recommend starting your baby on fresh, organic, homemade baby food instead of the stuff in jars or boxes. Not only does it taste way better than jarred baby food, but it is free of added salt, sugar and other flavor enhancers that your baby doesn't need. You want him to learn what real food actually tastes like so that he develops a taste for real food.

Not sure where to start with making baby food?
It can be as easy as smashing a banana or cooked sweet potato up with a fork and some water or breast milk! If you want to make a lot at once, here is a great post from A Step in The Journey to teach you how to make a week's worth of baby food in only an hour!

Tip 3: Keep Offering

It's been said that you may need to offer the same food 7-10 times before the baby or child will willingly eat it. If they reject it the first time, keep offering it! If they spit the carrots out on Monday, try serving them again on Tuesday. Still no dice? Try serving them a different way: Hot or cold, smashed or pureed, plain or mixed with another fruit, veggie or yogurt to make a blend. 

This is Baby A eating beets mixed with yogurt - they were a hit!

Tip 4: Serve a Rainbow

Get your baby used to different colors of foods by serving a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Don't be afraid to mix it up, too. Mix applesauce or pear sauce with pureed spinach to make a sweet, green treat. Some kids learn to hate green foods because all their early experiences with green foods tasted bad. Serving tasty treats of all colors will help keep them from making that negative connection.

Tip 5: Skip the Sugar

I recommend never ever feeding your kids sugary treats like cake, ice cream or cookies in the first 3-6 months they are eating solid foods (or really at all in the first year if you can help it). Yes, it's adorable to see the baby devour an entire ice cream cone by himself. No, it is not good for him.

If you just can't help yourself and end up breaking this rule, by all means, please make it a very occasional thing. And by occasional, I mean less than once a week...or once a month...or less (the less the better). Sugar addiction is a very real thing and starting your baby off with one will not be doing anyone any favors.

Tip 6: Spice it Up

Have you ever tasted your baby's food? You should! If it doesn't taste good to you, why do you think your baby will like it any more? While spices and seasonings are not recommended for very early food experiences, once your baby has been eating food for a month or more, try adding extra flavor with a seasoning like cinnamon, olive oil, cumin, basil, oregano or cheese. Just be sure to skip the sugar (see tip 5) and excess salt (a teeny bit of salt is ok) - your baby doesn't need those.

Tip 7: No Fighting

As a parent you need to pick your battles. Food is not a hill I recommend dying on. Some parents were so trained by their parents that you absolutely must finish your plate that they might try to force their kid to finish what they were served. Do not do this! If you were to be force-fed mashed peas, do you think it would make you like them more or less? Exactly. 

If your baby doesn't want to eat something, that is OK! Do not care (or at least pretend you do not care!). Serve them something else or just put it away to try again at your next feeding. Emotions are a very powerful thing and if your baby associates a negative emotion like fear, disgust, or sadness with a particular food, it will be very hard to overcome that later. Which brings me to tip 8....

Tip 8: Stay Positive

When your baby tries a new food, make the experience positive. Use happy, affirming words:
  • Good job, bud!
  • Yum! Carrots!
  • These are tasty, huh?
  • You're doing so great!
Don't undermine your success by bringing negative language, emotions or experience into the eating process.

Tip 9: Read Books About Food

I really like the book Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass so that's the one I personally recommend. It has lots of great pictures of many different fruits and vegetables of all colors. It's fun to look at and talk about. Plus, if baby is already familiar with the look of different types of produce, they are less likely to turn up their noses at it when it ends up on their plates!

Tip 10: Talk, Talk, Talk

Talk about food. Talk about what you are eating, what your baby is eating. Talk about taste and texture and color. Talk about where food comes from. Talk about the condiments you are using. We use sign language with our kids, so we use the signs for different foods we feed them as we present and talk about the food (interested in signing with your baby? We love Baby Signing Time. YouTube is also very helpful for learning individual signs. Just punch in "ASL _____" and the word you want to know the sign for). It may seem like your baby is too young to understand anything about what you say but they are soaking up more than you know! 

Stay tuned!

Like I said at the top, stay tuned for Part 2: Where we talk about how to get big kids to eat their veggies (even if you didn't get the advice from this post in time). Follow me on social media or subscribe to the newsletter so you don't miss it!

About the Author: 
Carissa is the mom of two energetic, constantly eating boys. The owner and lead writer for Creative Green Living, she is also the author of two e-books including the best-selling beverage cookbook, Infused: Recipes for Herb & Fruit Infused Water, Tea and More. Her goal is to empower families to make healthier choices that are easy, taste great and are fun!

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