The day when your baby starts eating solid food is an exciting one - it’s a step towards her independence, and it can be a way to share things you love, or important parts of your baby’s cultural heritage, with her. It’s one of those experiences that you know is probably going to get pretty messy - literally. It can also be the very beginning of your baby’s journey towards or away from being a picky eater, and you can be sure that your job as a parent will be a little bit easier if she chooses to move away from pickiness.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to encourage her in more adventurous food directions.
The benefits of prepared baby food are obvious - it’s convenient, and set up to be just the right consistency for your baby, which can be a pretty big selling point for new parents who are nervous about preparing food that’s palatable for your baby’s little, tiny, toothless palate. It’s also sold in approximate portion sizes, which can help when you’re not sure what a portion size should look like for a person that tiny. It’s easy to pack up on-the-go, doesn’t need to be heated up, and wipes off your baby’s face pretty easily. What more could you ask for, right?
Flavor, is the answer. Most baby foods are pretty bland, and what your baby eats when she starts eating solid foods sets up a template for what foods she will be comfortable with as she grows up, to a certain degree. If those first foods are bland, sweetened, processed, and packaged, it makes sense that she might not be totally comfortable making the switch to flavorful or spiced home-cooked meals when she is big enough to start eating with the rest of the family, no matter how thoroughly you channel your inner Martha Stewart.
Instead, try making your baby meals that are versions of what the rest of the family is eating, just mushed or cut until it’s manageable with her gums. The only seasoning you might want to try cutting back on for your baby’s sake is salt. And speaking of eating with the rest of the family...
When it comes to your baby eating with the rest of the family at mealtimes, it’s probably best to start as soon as possible. If your baby sees you eating the same thing you’re offering her, she is more likely to want to try it, and even if you’re eating something different from what you’re feeding her, your baby is still going to notice what you’re eating, and may be more predisposed to try it later. Yes, that’s a lot of responsibility, but healthy eating is good for both of you, and an appreciation for the occasional healthy treat won’t hurt either of you.
Many healthcare professionals advise introducing only one new solid food per week, so that if your baby has an allergic reaction to something, you'll be able to tell what it's from. However, some evidence suggests that including only one flavor in her diet for a week, aside from not providing a variety of nutrients, limits her taste palate. Instead, unless your doctor advises you otherwise, try introducing a few new foods that are not often allergens to begin with. Once your baby is comfortable with a small range of solid foods, try introducing foods that are more commonly allergens at a rate of about once a week. Introducing foods at a rate that is less often than once a week could also limit your baby’s taste palate, so keeping up a steady stream of new things for her to try is important, too.
Just because your baby doesn’t like something the first time she tries it, doesn’t mean she won’t like it in the future. With your baby’s taste buds so new, and her frame of reference only just forming, most foods have some degree of an acquired taste. Some research suggests that small children might be evolutionarily predisposed not to trust or want to eat new fruits and vegetables as a way of keeping them from wandering off and eating something they shouldn’t in the wild. Even if she doesn’t like something at first, when the taste becomes more familiar to your baby, she may start to like it.
Getting your baby to try something she hasn’t liked in the past, so she can get used to it, can be tricky. She is more likely to like, or at least tolerate enough to swallow, the offending flavor on the second try if it’s paired with something she does like. You can do this by blending a tricky vegetable and a sweet fruit together into a puree, and letting your baby get used to the flavor that way, or just by offering the two things together on a spoon.