Wilder was six months old and I had just started feeding him solids. I decided to try making my own baby food, because I was still starry-eyed like that, so I bought some organic peas and spent an hour cooking them, pureeing them, sifting out the hulls, and making sure they were just right. Then I put Wilder in his highchair and proudly offered him the first bite of my labor of love... which he promptly spit out. He ate exactly none of those damn peas that I had worked so hard on that day and it was then that I realized that this whole "feeding the baby" thing wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
Anyone who has never tried to get food into a baby's or toddler's stomach probably doesn't see what the big deal is and, it's true, getting a person to eat seems like it should be so simple. But, if you have attempted this feat, you know what a battle it can be. It may be one of the hardest parts of being a parent, and one of the most frustrating too. I mean, is that hand swipe across a full tray of food not just the most infuriating thing?!
I have to admit though, since that unpromising beginning with the peas, I've had it relatively easy in the feeding department. Don't get me wrong, Wilder definitely went through a food-throwing phase and he doesn't like everything I put in front of him, but overall he's a pretty good eater, if you couldn't tell...
So, since a few people have asked me for feeding suggestions recently, I decided to do a post on what I've learned through trial and error about the fine art of feeding a baby/toddler. Every kid is different, of course, so these tips may not all work for you. But I'm hoping at least one makes filling your baby's belly a little easier. That's always a good thing, right? And if you have any tips not listed here that have worked for you, please share them in the comments section. I think we're all always looking for different things to try!
- First and foremost, the best piece of advice I can give is: Don't take it personally. Like I said before, nothing is more frustrating than working hard to prepare a meal only to have it thrown directly and with gusto onto the floor. It's definitely hard not to be offended by such a thing. But it's important to remember that in no way is your baby's rejection of your peas, etc. a personal affront to you. For whatever reason they just don't feel like eating that particular thing that day and that's their only way of telling you. If you think about it, I'm sure you ask your husband or significant other almost daily, What do you feel like eating for dinner?, because what someone feels like eating changes by the day. Well, obviously you can't ask your baby this question and they can't tell you what they want so, just because you guessed peas and that was the wrong answer, they aren't necessarily being bratty by tossing it, they are just telling you they didn't feel like eating peas that day. Which leads me to my second point...
- Just because your baby rejects a food one day, don't cross it off the list. Give it a week and then try it again. Many of the foods Wilder eats now, like chicken, were rejected the first time they were offered to him. Which leads to my third point...
- If your baby rejects a food, try it again later and try to prepare or present it in a different way. For example, Wilder ate sliced up bananas every day for months and then one day suddenly decided that he wanted nothing more to do with them. I was baffled but I gave them a break and moved on to different fruits for a month or two (although it killed me, because bananas are so easy!). Then last week he saw me eating a banana and acted curious about it so I decided to try letting him take his own bites from it instead of slicing it up for him and, what do you know, it's his new favorite fruit again! He literally starts bouncing up and down in his highchair when he sees one.
- In addition to preparing the food a different way, you could also try putting it together with something you know they like. For example, Wilder liked broccoli for a while and then started rejecting it so I tried mixing the florets in with some pasta and shredded parmesan cheese, which I know he loves, and he gobbled it all right up. That showed him that broccoli isn't so bad and now he'll eat it on its own again.
- Speaking of showing them that something isn't so bad, don't underestimate the power of suggestion. Time after time it has worked for me, if Wilder is acting suspicious of what I've just put in front of him, to say Ooh, give me some of that, grab a piece off his tray, and eat it while gushing about how Yummy! it is. Then when he tries a bite I make sure to praise him and say Good job! Isn't that good?!
- However, if he decides that day that he'd rather throw whatever it is on the floor, I do not make a big deal about it (even though it just about makes my blood boil). I just turn away and ignore it. I've learned that the more I pressure him into trying something, the more adamant he is that he will do no such thing. If I act like it's not a big deal whether he eats it or not, most of the time, the fun of throwing the food (and seeing my reaction) disappears and he gives in and eats it. Although I will say that having what my friend, Lindsay, calls a "doggy cleanup crew" waiting in the wings makes it a lot easier to ignore the food accumulating on the floor when it's one of those days. ;)
- Speaking of the doggy cleanup crew, if you have a four-legged friend who likes to lurk under the highchair at mealtimes waiting for scraps, try putting them in a different room while the baby's eating. That will eliminate any temptation for your little one to make a game of feeding the dog rather than themselves.
- Also, in addition to not actively pressuring them to eat or try something, don't hover over them once you put a new food item on their tray. That's just passive-aggressive pressuring. It makes it seem like the fate of your world depends on them eating that food and that, in my experience, more often than not leads to more food on the floor. Drop and run, people. Drop and run! (Haha, OK, don't literally run away but put it in front of them and then go about your business to let them know that the choice to eat it or swipe it is theirs. When they are given ownership of their meals, I think they are more likely to eat what is put in front of them.)
- Spice things up! Don't be afraid to add spices and seasonings to your baby's meals. Imagine eating plain old green beans over and over and over. You wouldn't eat that yourself so don't expect your baby to be thrilled about it. One day add garlic to them, the next day add basil, etc. Keep mealtimes exciting and help your baby explore different flavors at the same time. Some of my favorite seasonings to use are: basil, thyme, nutmeg, garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. (Obviously salt is not a seasoning you will want to add to any of your baby's food though!)
- Pay attention to portion sizes. Don't put the whole portion in front of them at once because seeing all that food sometimes intimidates them. I usually put half of each portion in front of Wilder at a time and then give him more once he finishes the first half. The food seems more manageable to them that way and also, even if they swipe the first half onto the floor, you can try again or try a different tactic with the second half. That way, you/they haven't wasted the entire portion.
- Also, pay attention to bite sizes. I know we all want our babies to act like "big boys/girls" and be able to pick up a whole sandwich half and take a bite. But there's nothing wrong with cutting up food into bite-size portions if that makes it more inviting to them and gets them to eat it. There will be plenty of time for them to eat like a big kid, once they're actually a big kid. Right now, just concentrate on getting them used to eating and eating well.
- Speaking of eating well... I know I'm going to ruffle some feathers with this one but, in the first couple of years of life, your baby is learning what flavors they like and what kinds of foods they prefer -- things that will affect them for the rest of their lives -- so, for goodness' sake, don't introduce them to sugar and other things that have little to no nutritional value! Obviously if they are given candy or sugar (that includes juice!) they're going to prefer those treats over veggies and anything that isn't super sweet is going to be a disappointment to them. But if you offer them healthy choices now, they are more likely to make better food choices as they get older and not have to have sweets, etc. Besides the fact that sugary treats offer no nutritional value, they are full of (empty) calories and make your baby less hungry when mealtimes roll around, which makes that maddening hand swipe across the tray all the more likely. If they haven't been introduced to artificially sweet treats they will be able to appreciate flavors and prefer foods that are good for them. The same goes for things like white bread and white rice. Don't even start it. Just make your baby's PB&J's on wheat or multigrain bread from the get-go and they will end up choosing that themselves as they get older. It's our job to help our babies and kids form healthy eating habits that will make it easier for them to choose healthy options once they take over the job of feeding themselves. (Stepping off soapbox now.)
So, that's all for the tips (like I said, please feel free to add any extra ones you have in the comments section!). Now I'll give you some examples of actual foods I regularly feed Wilder. Again, I'm always looking for new things to try too so if you have something your baby absolutely loves please share with the rest of us!
For breakfast, Wilder eats oatmeal every day with either applesauce and cinnamon or mashed banana and cinnamon. (We were doing a wider variety of fruits in his breakfast until he started having an allergic reaction in the form of an awful diaper rash from the acidity in most fruits so that's cut down our selection quite a bit.) For lunch and dinner, I try to follow the food pyramid and give him a grain, a protein, a vegetable, a dairy (so far, he has refused to drink milk, so he eats a lot of cheese and yogurt with each meal), and a fruit for "dessert". Specific examples of foods he eats for these meals are:
- Tofu cubes coated in wheat germ (or crushed multigrain Cheerios) -- Guys, no one believes me when I tell them that Wilder eats tofu almost every day for lunch but, I'm telling you, he LOVES it! I've suggested this to people over and over and I've never had anyone tell me they've tried it. Don't be afraid to test out tofu on your baby! It's not some kind of hippy food -- it's SO good for you and, if your baby ends up liking it, you've got yourself a super quick and easy lunch food. Also, it lasts for months in the refrigerator so if they don't like it the first time, it's not like the whole thing goes to waste. Just try it again later on. Seriously, someone please try it and tell me your baby doesn't just love it!
- Turkey meatballs -- You can find the recipe here. Wilder eats these for dinner probably 4-5 nights a week. You can make them with whatever ingredients you have on hand and throw in all kinds of vegetables, beans, and cheese. Wilder is not fond of carrots so I always mash up some cooked carrots and add those to every batch. Even if your baby is not a fan of vegetables in general, you can feed these meatballs to them and know that they are at least getting some veggies that way.
- Frozen turkey sausage links -- They have less fat than regular sausage and these are something easy to just have on hand to mix things up every now and then.
- Whole grain waffles with peanut butter and banana mashed together on top or mashed banana and cinnamon on top -- Grain, check! Fruit, check! (And protein, check! if you add peanut butter.) I get Van's 8 Grain waffles and they are sooo good!
- Veggie burger patties with a slice of cheddar or provolone cheese melted on top.
- Any kind of chicken I have cooking in the crockpot for Paul's and my dinner, like chicken and dumplings or tikke masala, because it's nice and shredded and yummy. (I have to feed Wilder before we eat most nights because with Paul's school schedule he's usually not home for dinner until late. I can't wait to be able to do more family dinners once he has a job with regular hours!)
- Peanut butter and honey sandwiches on multigrain bread -- I tried PB&J and he wasn't too impressed but since I've always eaten PB and honey I tried that too and he was totally into it. You might try it if your kid gets tired of the same old PB&J.
- Tricolor rotini (one of the only pastas he likes so far) with shredded Parmesan cheese and sometimes vegetables.
- Omelettes with beans, cheese, and spinach.
- Grilled cheese sandwiches. Try sneaking some spinach into one!
- Bean and cheese quesadillas on whole wheat tortillas -- You can mix it up between black beans and pinto beans to keep things interesting.
- Pan-seared tilapia with garlic and basil -- I've done this a few times for him but need to do it more. I don't like fish but I wish I did so I'm determined to let him get a taste for it. I don't want my food preferences to determine his.
- I do fresh veggies when I have them on hand like broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc. but a lot of the time I use canned vegetables for the convenience factor. I just make sure to buy the "No Salt Added" version and I also rinse the vegetables before I put them in the pot to cook. Some of Wilder's favorites are green beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
- Here's something that's going to sound weird but it's actually really good: applesauce and cottage cheese mixed together. My mom always gave it to me as a child and I thought it was perfectly normal but apparently not everyone else in the world eats this yummy combination... but they should! Or you should at least try it on your baby. The sweet of the applesauce and the sort of salty of the cottage cheese is so good together. Plus you get a fruit and a dairy in one bowl!
- Fruit he is able to eat and not have a reaction to are apple slices and applesauce (I love these GoGo Squeez applesauce packets. So convenient to just throw one in my purse!), grapes, cantaloupe, bananas, and kiwi.
- For snacks lately we've been doing Kashi soft cereal bars, applesauce, raisins, fruit, slices of cheese, YoBaby yogurt, Crispix, multigrain Cheerios, and goldfish. I'm not a big snack eater myself so I've always had trouble coming up with snacks for him. I copy what my friend Rachel does a lot in this area and I'm also open to any suggestions from you in this department :)
- And he drinks water. Lots and lots of water. I know juice is a popular drink for babies/toddlers but it's next to impossible to find it without some sugar added or artificial ingredients. To me, he doesn't need those extra calories or the influence of that artificially sweet taste. I'm still working on getting him to drink milk but I don't want to add chocolate to it so I've run up against a wall in that endeavor. Any suggestions in regards to that would be appreciated too!
Alright folks, this has turned out to be super long but hopefully some of it will be helpful to you! Also, check out the Wholesome Baby Food website for more feeding suggestions, recipes, and information. It's been a lifesaver to me whenever I have baby feeding questions. And remember to leave your own suggestions and tips in the comments on this post so we can all benefit!
Also... I'm very excited to announce my first blog giveaway coming up on Monday in cooperation with the talented Kristen Ley of Thimblepress design studio! Go check out her Etsy shop and be sure to check back here next week to enter to win a gorgeous print from her collection.