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FAQs

Picky / Fussy Eaters

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When do I start training healthy eating habits?

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Research has shown that by the time baby is 3 years old he has already developed his food likes and dislikes, good or bad, healthy or otherwise! The good news is we are presented with a window of opportunity [5] to alter these preferences through exposure during a very sensitive period of his life. [24, 48] These first exposures can start as early as 8 weeks post-conception, via a mother’s amniotic fluid, and later on via breast milk. Therefore, a  mother can start flavour training long before the introduction of solid foods, simply through the foods she chooses to eat. [65, 84] 

We also know our babies’ brains are little sponges and even in the first 6 months of life they are soaking up everything around them. Whether you are breastfeeding or not, had a diet of kale or cookies throughout pregnancy, it is never too early or too late to start this learning.

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Is there such a thing as waiting too long to introduce solids?

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Yes, there are a number of reasons why delaying the introduction for too long can be potentially disadvantageous. 

  • Smaller window of opportunity to create healthy eating preferences. It is well known there is a window of opportunity [5] between 5 and 7 months, whereby babies are very accepting and receptive to new flavors and experiences. [9, 42, 45] 
  • Nutrient deficiencies. By 6 to 7 months babies start to need extra nutrients [14] in order to optimize growth and development. [72] These extra nutrients can no longer be sustained by milk alone and so must be provided by the solid foods he eats. It is therefore important that, by 7 to 8 months, babies have established the ability to accept a wide variety of nutrient-dense [23] solid foods. 
  • Increased risk of allergies. The late introduction of solids (7+ months) may actually increase the risk of food allergies. Mounting evidence has suggested that the earlier the exposure, within guidelines, [45] the decreased risk of development of allergies. 
  • Delayed motor development. Learning to chew, through exposure to a wide variety of textures, [42] is a developmental milestone that all babies must learn in order to learn to eat. These motor skills are also important for the development of speech. Delaying the development of these motor skills, much beyond 7 months, can therefore incur future developmental delays. [66]
  • Food fussiness Missing the window of opportunity [5] to develop healthy eating preferences can increase the chances of food pickiness. [14, 43, 66]

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How do I go about offering baby those first foods?

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Be prepared. Starting solids is messy, it rarely goes as straightforward as parents would hope, and you can guarantee there will be bumps along the way! That said, it can also be a rewarding experience and a journey you can enjoy together as a family. 

Step 1: Choose a time of day free of stress, when he is not overly hungry or tired. [21]

Step 2: Ensure he is sitting correctly: Upright, not slumped forward, off to one side or too far back. You may need to place some extra support around him, e.g. rolled-up towels or cushions. A footrest can also provide extra stability. If his legs don’t quite reach the footrest you can tape an old shoebox to the footrest in the interim. Also check the tray height. It should be sitting below his breastbone so his elbows can sit on the tray without being hunched. Again, you might need to sit him on a folded towel to lift him up a bit. 

Step 3: Stimulate the senses. Eating is a sensory experience. In fact, without being aware, our digestion process starts long before the food touches our stomachs. Watching food being prepared, its smell and feel, and the anticipation of eating, all stimulate a response that signals the release of digestive juices (saliva), thus preparing the body for receiving food. So involve him in this process. Even if the food comes in a packet, talk about it—the smell, the color, its yummy goodness, where it comes from—and when possible have some in its physical form. Show him what a whole carrot looks like. And don’t forget to eat some yourself, smile, and describe it encouragingly. 

Step 4: Choose a spoon. Ensure the spoon is small enough to fit in his mouth and flat enough that his lips can be used to suck off the puree. There are plenty of baby spoons on the market, so you might have to try a couple to find one that works for him.

Step 5: If he is getting agitated trying to sit up or use the spoon, stop there for the day. Remember, this is a learning experience for him and keeping it a positive and enjoyable one will pay dividends later! So if at any stage in the process the wheels come off, it is important not to show frustration but to praise him, and yourself, for getting this far and try again tomorrow. His emotional wellbeing [10] is equally important in his sensory journey as the food itself.

Step 6: Start small. Offer half a teaspoon of puree on the end of the spoon. Putting too much on the spoon in the initial stages can be frightening for him and difficult for him to swallow. Keep in mind that this is a sensory journey of tastes and experiences, not about nutrition. Don’t be tempted to scrape the top of the spoon on his upper lip. This encourages the tongue-thrust reflex (pushing food out) rather than sucking food to the back of the mouth. This is an important skill to learn to progress onto accepting different textures. If he struggles with this concept of sucking off a spoon right away you can try placing a little on a clean finger and offering him that first.  

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What if my baby doesn’t like it, can I mix it with something they do like?

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A common way to get vegetables into children is to ‘hide’ them in something they do like, e.g. mixing broccoli in with his favourite carrot. However, although this delivers the benefits of consuming tricky vegetables, it does nothing for learning to like, eat, and develop preferences for these vegetables in the future. Children can learn [2] to like a wide variety of flavors and textures and the only way they can do this is by being exposed to them on a regular basis. [6, 27, 31] This means carrot is carrot and broccoli is broccoli. Remember, a taste is all that is required. [5]

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What if my baby turns his head away, or pushes the spoon away, or seems upset to go in his high chair?

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Even if he has been accepting of solids, there will be days he just might not want anything to do with it. Just putting him in the high chair might be enough to upset him. That’s OK. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not make a fuss [37], and try again later in the day or tomorrow. You may want to try feeding him cradled in your lap. Remember, for the last 6 months his comfort has been in your arms for milk feeds. For some reason, on this particular day his emotional world [9] maybe a little unstable and just may require this added comfort and closeness.

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What about snacks in between meals?

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Snacks really don’t have a place in the first year of life and here’s why: The evolution of snacks is to provide a quick easy solution to fill a gap before the next mealtime. Many snack options tend to be something to grab on the go, and are often highly processed (the obvious exception being fruit). One snack as a stop-gap measure can quickly turn into two, and before you know it, the demands for favourite snacks start encroaching and undoing all the hard work to develop preferences for healthy whole foods [29].

Establishing and maintaining a nutritious eating regime in the first year of life is imperative. Three meals a day, plus milk feeds as top-ups in between, leaves very little room in their tiny tummies for nutrient-empty fillers. The second reason for reaching for a snack food is generally to comfort, clam, or distract him in times of stress [83]. Now, there is no harm in this if it’s once in a while. The problem begins if every time he is upset he is rewarded with a snack, he will quickly start to associate food with emotions rather than appetite. Ever wondered where the term ‘emotional eating’ comes from? Bingo! So before you reach for the cracker packet, stop and think if he is genuinely hungry and/or how else you might be able to give comfort.

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How do I train my baby not to be fussy?

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The crucial period [5]. of the hardwiring of the brain toward food preferences occurs in the early stages of the introduction to solid foods. It is therefore necessary to continue to build on creating healthy preferences and making the most of every opportunity to do so. Plenty of research and study has shown that the introduction to a wide variety of vegetables [11] on multiple occasions and building on the range of vegetables offered in their single form [12] all help to form preferences and acceptance, both in the short and long term [14]. It is also important that caregivers aren’t swayed by their own preferences/dislikes or get locked into their own preconceived ideas on what their infant will like/dislike [45, 51]. Vegetables first, vegetables in variety, and vegetables in repetition is the key message [11] here. Responsive feeding [36] and his learning experience and environment also play a vital role. Parents, and mothers in particular, are inclined to feed their children as often and as much as possible (the survival instinct). However, these good intentions can actually lead to poor relationships with food and later fussiness, if it turns into a battle of the wills.

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What if my baby doesn’t want to eat what I give him?

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For some infants, it may take several exposures (up to 10 or more) to a certain food before it is readily accepted [2, 3, 18, 46]. The key is to not be concerned but offer it again on another occasion. Use this important phase as an opportunity to offer a wide variety of vegetables on multiple occasions and extend his palate without the worry of having to meet nutritional requirement [13]. 

As new flavors and tastes are introduced, it is not unusual for infants to display an element of surprise or even disgust [6, 22]. This is normal. Focus on the infant’s willingness to continue eating rather than their facial expressions and persevere. Limiting the diet by reverting back to familiar and readily accepted foods (usually those with a sweet and/or salty base) not only cements a life-long preference for those foods and the health consequences that these habits bring, but can also put infants at risk for nutritional deficiencies. 

So, the next time he screws his nose up at broccoli, don’t make a fuss and get into a battle of the wills. and don’t try and sneak it in while he is distracted or mix it with his preferred fruit or vegetable [12]. End the feeding session without fuss [37] and try offering it again another time. And no, babies will not starve themselves—that extra spoon of broccoli is not going to make a difference to him sleeping through the night! Exposure and repetition are the keys to healthy eating preferences and habits [11, 15, 70, 91].

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Baby screws up his face at certain foods. Does this mean he doesn’t like it?

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As new flavors and tastes are introduced, it is not unusual for infants to display an element of surprise or even disgust [22]. This is normal. It is important to focus on the infant’s willingness to continue eating rather than their facial expressions and persevere [6, 46, 91]. It is also important to not react negatively, make fun of or show disappointment as these can reinforce undesired behaviour [37] or put him off trying again. Remember, this is a journey of sensory education!

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Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.