Weaning your baby is a really exciting time, but you’re bound to experience a few problems along the way. Switching from breast milk or infant formula to solids is a big change for your baby’s palate as he’s learning to adapt to new tastes and textures. But if fussy eating is becoming a real problem, here are some tactics for you to try at mealtime.
1 Your baby’s a very slow eater
First of all, try to work out why your baby is eating slowly, says Naia Edwards, author of Weaning and Coping With Feeding Problems (Vermilion). Is it because he’s not really hungry, or is he being distracted by something else? If you find it’s the latter, then try to remove the distraction. Big brothers and sisters are a common one, so try to encourage toddlers to play while you’re feeding.
“If he’s eating slowly because he’s not hungry, try feeding him a bit later and don’t give him too many snacks between meals,” says Naia. Don’t forget though, eating reasonably slowly can be a good habit to have because it’s encouraging your baby to enjoy his food and it also prevents overeating as his tummy has time to tell his brain that he’s full.
2 Your baby gets food everywhere but his mouth
“Exploring the feel and texture of food with his fingers is just as much a part of the weaning experience as tasting,” says Naia. But obviously your baby needs to be getting some of it into his stomach as well as having fun with it.
For babies older than 7 months, finger foods and dips combine playing with eating. Your baby may well enjoy dropping food on the floor but don’t worry, it’s a phase he’ll grow out of – and there are ways to take the stress out of messy eating.
If you keep picking up or wiping dropped food, your baby will think it’s a game and keep doing it. Put a mess mat down to ease the damage and invest in a suction bowl to stop that ending up on the floor, too. If all else fails, Naia says, “Take the plate away and try again a bit later.”
3 Your baby gags on any food with a bit of texture
Gagging is a normal reflex that prevents your baby from choking, so the first thing is not to panic. It might also be worth checking that you’re not putting too much food on his spoon or putting it too far into his mouth.
Sometimes babies hate the transition from smooth to lumpy, says Naia. “It’s very common for babies to find lumps in food quite difficult at first and to gag,” she says. “It may take some time for your baby to learn how to allow lumpier food at the back of his tongue to enter his food passage.”
If your baby does gag, try not to overreact and don’t lift him out of the highchair. Instead, provide lots of reassuring words and comforting body language. Try mixing a smooth puréed cube of baby food with a cube of food that has more texture to help him get used to the lumpier food.
4 Your baby won’t eat enough veg
Try not to get stressed if your baby keeps refusing vegetable-based purees, as your reaction will only make feeding time harder. Just leave it a few days and try again. Yes, it can be soul destroying to keep cooking up tasty feasts only for him to turn his nose up at them, but perseverance really is the key here.
If this isn’t working, go back to the basics – use vegetables that don’t have too strong a flavour and also try the sweeter ones, such as parsnips or carrots, to tempt those taste buds. “If your baby doesn’t like the sweeter vegetable purées, then try fruit and veg combinations – apple with a bit of parsnip or pear with a bit of courgette are good,” suggests Naia. “Gradually increase the amount of vegetable you include until there’s very little fruit in the mix.”
5 Your baby won’t try anything new
“If your baby refuses a new food, don’t force it because a battle over food will only teach him mealtimes are unhappy,” says Naia. “Instead, let him eat foods he likes but don’t give up offering new things. Studies have shown that babies and toddlers need to be exposed to a food between 15 and 21 times before they develop a true like or dislike for that food,” she adds.
Persevere with a taste. Try cooking and presenting it in a new way and don’t overload your baby with new flavours. While it’s important to keep introducing new tastes, too many at once can be overwhelming. It’s a good idea to introduce new food at the mid-morning feed, as your baby will have more energy, and if he has a reaction, symptoms will have settled down by bedtime.
“She played with her food”
“Giulia used to play with her food instead of eating it, so she finished every meal covered from head to toe in purée. It was very frustrating wasting food that I’d so lovingly cooked, and as I was buying organic, the cost doubled the frustration. I was also worried because experts say you should feed a variety of foods and my daughter only ate what she wanted.
“I discovered Giulia played with her food either because she was unsure of what I was giving her or because she didn’t want it so she played with it instead. If she kept putting her hands in and not eating it, I either offered something else (only if I was desperate not to be woken by a hungry baby at four in the morning!), or took the bowl away and let her go to bed without dinner. Missing dinner did the trick as she eventually started claiming the bowl back and eating what was in it.
“As for the previously left-over food – I scooped up the salvageable bits and garnished our grown up meals with it!”
Silvia, 39, mum to Giulia, 2
“He gagged on savoury foods”
“My baby ate fruit purees and yogurts without a problem but gagged and spat out all savouries. I was worried he wasn’t getting the right nutrients and felt like a really bad mum because sometimes when I was giving him his lunch (some sort of dessert), people would ask, ‘What did he have to start?’ Every day I’d try different savoury flavours at different temperatures and textures but he still gagged on everything.
“Then I found low-fat, low-salt baby snacks and he really enjoyed feeding himself these. After a bit, I tried him with purees in the same flavours as the snacks and he’d eat a few spoonfuls without gagging. By 8 months, much to my relief, he was happy to try a variety of savouries!”
Holly, 20, mum to Louis, 9 months