How to turn your baby into a foodie

I asked Alex of Feed the Brood to write a blog about what she knows best – your baby and food….

 

“Mmmm, that squid is delicious Mummy, please can I have some more?”

As a foodie parent, I could have burst with pride the moment my 5-year-old son announced this over a fancy restaurant table.

It isn’t the manners that make me the proudest, or the fact that he might be a fan of squid, just like me, but the fact that he was willing to try something slightly out of the ordinary that day.

That single moment represents five years of hard work on our part to encourage him to develop both trust and curiosity in food.

Food face plate with vegetables making his hair, moustache, glasses and bowtie

Don’t get me wrong, all our children have regular meltdowns at the dinner table. We’ve also faced many an embarrassing tantrum at a play-date, in a restaurant or at school. We’re not immune by any stretch, and perhaps because we try to expose our kids to a plentiful variety of food, one might say that we’ve invited this drama into our dining room! But actually, we’ve tried very hard over the first five years of being parents to develop a calm and consistent approach to how we handle this challenging behaviour and eventually encourage a confident foodie out of the other side.

 

Lots of parenting advice talks about how the ‘Age & Stage’ of your child will affect what you expect from them. I’m a huge fan of how this applies to children’s developing relationship with food. Having age-appropriate expectations can make all the difference when knowing how to handle tricky situations and weather rough periods. This can also help you take advantage of a wealth of untapped food experiences out there for your burgeoning young foodie to explore.

★★★★★

Here’s my quick guide to your baby’s ‘Ages & Stages’ and how you can handle each one to develop their love of food, cooking and family meals.

FROM NEWBORN (0-4m)

Newborn babies rather like being strapped to your chest in a sling – this is perfect for allowing them to join you whilst shopping, cooking and perhaps even eating (crumbs of food in my baby’s hair was a very common sight when mine were babies in a sling!). When they’re awake, they can hear the interesting sounds of cooking, smell the smells and enjoy the familiar rhythm of your conversations at mealtimes. From just a few months old, they can learn that eating is a happy time for the family to come together and they get to watch interactions between family members.

  • Sit down to eat at a table as often as you can and include the baby
  • Include the baby at table height where possible
  • Talk to the baby whilst cooking and shopping

PRE-WEANING (5-6m)

Before a baby is 6 months old, their gut isn’t mature enough to manage the introduction of solid foods. But a baby of 5-6 months old can sit in a highchair, play with toys, develop coordination and learn about the social aspect of mealtimes. A baby can also enjoy watching you cooking and shopping.

  • Set up a highchair in a communal space (you can pad it out with a cushion to add support)
  • Allow short bursts of time in the highchair with stimulating toys – they will almost certainly end up on the floor, but that’s half the fun, right?
  • Sit down to eat at a table as often as you can and include the baby

STARTING WEANING (6m)

At six months of age, a baby is ready to start eating solid foods. Whether you choose baby-led weaning or traditional weaning, you can still take a super-chilled approach. I talk a lot about being a ‘zen’ parent when serving meals. Zen is infectious. It’s down to you to create a calm and happy atmosphere at the table, which in turn will help your baby develop a love of mealtimes even of they’re not consuming much food. It’s going to be more messy than you ever could imagine. You’ll be down on your hands and knees cleaning up that floor so, so often, but if you can keep a cool head and keep the love of food alive, it will pay off in droves when they’re older.

Or get a dog. I hear they’re proper useful during weaning.

  • Take a relaxed and explorative approach to weaning
  • Offer a wide variety of foods from the start
  • Don’t list likes and dislikes, remember children are fickle
  • Sit down to eat together as a family as often as you can
  • Find out more about baby-led weaning on my website feedthebrood.com

BEYOND WEANING (6-12m)

As they gain confidence with eating, you’ll see them consume more food at differing rates. Food intake can swing from famine to feast at an unfathomable rate. Keep a calm and relaxed approach to how much they eat and trust that if you provide great meals, they will follow their appetite. This is also a time that they will most likely learn the preference for sweet over savoury, so try to include plenty of variety. And they are little sponges, so it’s really important to eat the same meals together so that they can watch how you eat certain foods and read all your reactions whilst you eat.

  • Allow exploration
  • Don’t stress over the mess – keep antibac wipes at hand instead
  • Talk about food positively
  • Cook together
  • Enjoy meals out
  • Gently encourage and demonstrate good table manners
  • Sit down to eat together as a family as often as you can

TODDLER AND BEYOND (12m+)

Beyond a year, your baby will make the transition from milk feeds on to meals and you will most likely settle into a mealtime routine that works around your little squirt. You may have found that bolognaise or cheesy pasta are the staples and you daren’t try anything new or different, but I implore you to keep offering plenty of variety throughout the days, weeks and months. If you allow your child’s likes and dislikes to dictate the menu, you may well end up with a tiny list of foods your family can eat. And if you have other children in the family also dictating what they will and won’t eat, you may find that you have to cook a different meal for each person! That’s definitely not going to aid your stress levels or budget. In my opinion, meals for a growing family with differing tastes are best constructed with multiple dishes that cover all bases. For example; curry, rice, vegetables, yoghurt, naan. There’s plenty of choice there for everyone.

  • Develop a consistent approach to mealtime behaviour expectations with all your child’s care-givers
  • Sit down to eat together as a family as often as you can even if it means one parent on their own
  • Make a routine of laying the table together
  • Get matching table mats and crockery sets – no fights over who gets the Peppa Pig bowl!
  • Give them complete autonomy over how much they eat – no battles over broccoli
  • Make mealtimes a time for ritual and celebration
  • Put bowls of food in the middle of the table for people to help themselves to
  • Cook and bake together
  • Enjoy shopping and food markets where possible
  • Let them use your camera phone to take photos of interesting food
  • Introduce a play kitchen into your toy set and show them how to role-play making a menu and cooking food as a chef or taking orders and payment as a waiter
  • Make a meal plan for your week – avoid waste, expense and stress & help keep the family meals varied, healthy and cooking times predictable
  • Offer to share each other’s food in restaurants – even delicious squid!
  • Organise picnics when the weather’s nice – make an activity of packing for the trip
  • Read cookery books and magazines for pleasure together

★★★★★

Food face plate with vegetables making her hair, necklace and earrings

 

Good luck with the journey ahead. It’s a wonderful and exciting time if you take the right attitude from the start. Remember, children copy the behaviours they see most from loved ones around them, so to loosely quote Gandhi, be what you want to see. If you demonstrate willingness, enthusiasm, trust and a passion for food, and provide rich food-centred experiences, which allow them to find their feet without admonishment, you will certainly be laying the foundations for a happy little foodie in the future.

 

Alex Thurman is a nutrition graduate, former primary school teacher and more recently, a mum of three. As she was finding her feet with her third and final baby, she decided to start running workshops showing mums how to wean their babies. Feed the Brood grew from there. Now she builds resources, runs workshops, consultations and evening courses on weaning, fussy eating, meal planning, low effort recipes and much more. She has aspirations to build an online community with membership and access to all sorts of resources, so that parents can go online and learn how to provide healthy meals in a more manageable way.