Many people are often surprised at my daughter Macy’s food choices. From a very young age she was super curious about food and loved trying new tastes and textures. At 3 and a half she is now a more adventurous eater that your average adult! She loves celery, beetroot, red cabbage, olives, aubergine, quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds, avocados, the list is pretty much endless. This comes as a surprise to many, but to me it is no real surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I love that she will eat 95% of all things given to her, however this isn’t something that happened as if by magic, it has been an ongoing mission of mine and it began even before we decided to wean her.
I believe that all children are only as adventurous as their parents are. Little ones watch and learn from their nearest and dearest from day one. I knew that if I wanted Macy to be a good little eater, then it had to start with me and my partner.
against having your little one in the kitchen, but for me, the kitchen is the hub of my house, its where all the good stuff happens! So along Macy came with me into our kitchen. Often she would just sit in her bouncy chair and watch me from a safe place, but I always encouraged her to get involved, whether it be exploring the feel of an onion or a carrot, paying with wooden utensils, watching me chopping away, or just enjoying the smells of what was cooking. I talked to her about what I was cooking and described flavours and textures of the ingredients I was using. I am pretty sure she wouldn’t have had a clue about my ramblings, but I am sure somehow it will have contributed to her development.
I chose not to wean Macy until she was a week or two shy of 6 months. I really wanted her to be ready and excited about food before we embarked on this journey of weaning, and to be honest, I don’t think I was ready to begin any sooner either! The responsibility felt huge, and I felt pretty clueless. Much of the advice offered from the NHS about weaning wasn’t entirely in line with my understanding of nutrition and I wanted to discover more for myself. I read many different books on weaning, all with different views on what was best. After devouring as many as I could find, I then felt I had a better idea of what felt right for Macy’s food adventures.
I opted for a mix of mashed foods (never entirely pureed unless having soup!), and lots and lots of finger foods. Yes is was messy, but whichever route you choose there is always a huge element of mess. I always made sure to offer her an array of fresh foods and different textures, and to keep on offering, even when she didn’t seem interested in a particular vegetable or type of food. Research does say that it can take anywhere up to 9 try’s to develop a taste for a certain food. I also believe that is it important to give foods in their natural state. It has to be pretty confusing that all purees have the same texture, yet can be vastly different in taste. A lot more can be learned when babies get to experience all that food has to offer. The difference in texture of a steamed carrot to the crunchiness of a slice of red pepper. The squishiness of a banana to the crispness of an apple. I also believe that babies are very intuitive in knowing what nutrients their body needs, offering them a variety of food to choose from enables them to pick what their body needs. Viewing meal as play times encourages learning in the most natural way to them. Allowing them to play with food helps develop fine motor skills and allows you the time to enjoy your dinner too!
As we got further on in the weaning stages, I found that one of the best ways to get Macy interested in particular foods was to allow her to eat food off my plate. I would serve myself a big plate of brightly coloured vegetables, sit somewhere where she could get to me and my plate (often the sofa so she could climb and be nosey) and eat my dinner without offering her any or trying to get her to eat some. Macy’s natural curiosity always got the better of her and she would signal to be picked up, or climb up and sit and watch me eat my lunch. When she showed an interest in something in particular, I would let her try it off my plate. I would let this happen a few times, then when she developed a taste for a particular food she had tried from my plate, be it steamed broccoli, avocados, asparagus, tomatoes, beetroot etc. only then would I serve it to her in her own bowl. From then on she was happy to eat all the foods on the “I wish my child would eat…” wish list!
Fast forwards to now, Macy is already a mini chef in the making. She even dictates her own lunch. Todays was quinoa, avocado, sweetcorn, peas, green beans and goats cheese. Not forgetting olive oil and pepper!
So to recap…. My top 5 tips for getting your little one eating everything:
1. Involve them in the kitchen, let them explore and play with food/kitchen utensils.
2. Parents eat as you would like to see them eat. Don’t expect them to eat broccoli if you wont!
3. Make food times like play times and don’t stress about the mess!
4. Serve only yourself foods that you want them to eat, let them watch you eat it, allow their curiosity to build and let them “pinch” food from your plate.
5. Persevere! Continue to offer foods even if you don’t think they like them. Chances are they haven’t yet developed a taste for them.
On a final note, this whole weaning thing is not always easy! I did have a tough time with Macy at about the age of 2. It felt like she went to bed one night and the following morning she awoke and decided she didn’t like anything other that gluten free pasta and rice. The girl nearly sent me loopy! Meal times became a battle and I felt helpless. I had gone from meal times being a breeze, to making her 3 different dinners to try and get her to eat something. It took me some time to wise up, then I realised that I needed to follow the advice I had so happily passed onto others; Make them one meal, if they don’t like it, they don’t get anything else. Simple. It took a few nights of tears, then as if by magic it back to the Macy we knew. She had tested me on my quest to be feeding her nourishing food, but thankfully I didn’t give in!