An introduction to flavor training & solids.
Do you want your baby to grow up with a love of veggies? It might sound like a dream, but you have the power to shape their palate. When you introduce healthy foods the right way—and at the right time—your little one can learn to enjoy a variety of healthy flavors.
The beginning of the flavor journey starts before your baby enters the world. Within 15 weeks from conception, baby begins to sample flavors in your amniotic fluid. Moms who eat a diverse range of healthy foods during pregnancy and when breastfeeding enjoy a head-start at shaping healthy food preferences.
But don’t fret if you ate more cookies than kale early on. Your baby’s brain is only one-quarter of the weight of an adult’s brain at birth. As their brain grows and develops, the window of opportunity continues. At just 4 months old, your baby reaches a new and exciting milestone. This is the age when you can introduce new flavors. With the right feeding hacks and flavor strategy, your infant will develop a taste for nutrient-dense veggies—the same foods your parents likely struggled to get you to eat. And the same foods that reduce the risk of lifestyle-related diseases later in life.
Imagine your child asking for a second serving of their favorite vegetables. One where they don’t overeat and aren’t excessively fussy when trying new things. With the right strategies, this can be your future.
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The window of opportunity: shaping their future palate
The Window of Opportunity begins at conception and continues for 1,000 days. This is the time where lifelong dietary preferences form. At the same time, baby’s mental and physical abilities take off. The right nutrition supports a healthy body and mind, now and in the future.
Our senses of taste and smell dictate our food experiences. When we smell or taste familiar favorites, our mood lifts.
A developing baby’s journey into the world of flavors begins even before birth. At only 13 to 15 weeks after conception, your baby’s taste buds develop. This is when they start to smell and taste the foods that the mom eats through the amniotic fluid that they swallow.
This glimpse into baby’s development demonstrates the importance of what you eat when you’re pregnant. Try to eat a variety of healthy foods so that your baby can get used to these flavors early. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you give in to a less healthy food craving. There is value in your emotional health, too!
Flavored breast milk?
When you breastfeed your little one, they experience a breadth of flavors in your milk. These flavors come from the foods that you eat. When you embrace a diet full of healthy whole foods, you increase the likelihood baby will accept these foods as they grow older. This is the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
The flavor window opens
From 4 to 6 months
Breastmilk and/or formula should be the only source of calories for baby until they reach 4 months. However, from around 4 to 7 months an exciting window for flavor training opens where infants are open to trying almost anything. Using this 2-3 month window to introduce a wide variety of ‘tastes’ (of the nutrient-dense foods central to overall health and wellbeing—vegetables) can really help in shaping flavor preferences.
All humans are born with a taste for sweet and salty. Because of this, there is no need to train your baby to like sweet and salty foods. But bitter and sour foods take some getting used to.
We recommend avoiding most fruits and all infant cereals during this critical window. Doing so is not necessary for flavor training, and might decrease baby’s desire for less sweet foods. Instead, use this opportunity to introduce a wide variety of vegetables.
A vegetables-first approach helps mold your child’s palate. Start with single-vegetables preparations that you share time and again. The trick is variety and repetition. Not introducing fruits or cereal during this critical window might increase baby’s acceptance of less sweet foods.
Avoid masking these flavors with something sweeter. It can take 10 exposures or more before your baby accepts a new flavor. We call this the 10 yuks to 1 yum tendency.
Another tip—there’s no need to wait a long time between introducing new foods that aren’t potential allergens. Waiting 4 or 5 days before trying a new veggie is a lost opportunity. You have a short window when your infant isn’t overly picky. Take advantage of it!
6 to 14 months
Gradually over the next 6 and 14 months, most babies will go from a primarily milk or formula-based diet to one that is mostly solid foods. It’s essential that babies continue to experience new and healthy flavors. It is during this time, they are laying down the foundations for healthy eating preferences and habits. Research has shown us that these preferences can remain with them for the rest of their lives.
A note on neophobia
Nearly every child goes through periods of neophobia—times when they have no desire to try anything unfamiliar. Neophobia is normal. It’s how moms deal with it that determines how severe the neophobia is. By helping your baby build a good relationship with food by introducing healthy flavors early on, you can limit the severity of neophobia.
Ready for solids
Breast milk and milk formula
The human body creates the best baby food there is—breast milk. For the first six months of an infant’s life, all of their nutritional needs come from breast milk. Breast milk is considered the ‘gold standard’ in infant feeding. And it’s not only nutrients like fats, vitamins, and minerals, but bioactive compounds that protect against infections and inflammation.
Research shows that breast milk may offer long-term health benefits. It plays a central role in building your little one’s immune system, and it might protect against obesity and diabetes.
During the first 6 months, infant formula is the only other option for complete nutrition. Milk formulas mimic the components of breast milk. During their first year, avoid giving your baby standard cow’s milk. Standard cow’s milk is not a suitable alternative to breastmilk or formula and should not be fed to baby’s in large amounts until after their first birthday.
Breast milk or formula remains the central source of nutrition for the full first year of life. This is true even when you introduce solid foods.
When should you stop breastfeeding? Research suggests that breast milk’s healthy fats and abundant nutrients continue to benefit babies for at least 2 years. As such, you can supplement solid foods with breast milk until 2 years or older.
While not essential, exposing baby to vegetable flavors from 4 months will certainly help when solids play an important role in their nutrition. Try introducing as many vegetable flavors as you can - spanning the whole flavor spectrum. And yes, even those ones you might not like, he won't know any different! Over the next 1-2 months, introduce as many new flavors as you can—particularly vegetable flavors.
Remember, every baby is born with the innate taste for sweet and salty. It is veggie exposure that can make your child less picky as they transition from milk to solids.
At this early stage, you only need to give tastes of food. Around ½ teaspoon is sufficient for baby to experience new flavors. They may not love it the first time around, but that’s okay! With repeated exposure, their palate will adjust. This is the 10 yuks to 1 yum idea.
Remember, in these very early stages it is ‘flavor exposure’ not ‘nutrition. It is really important that the nutrients are still being provided by breast milk or formula.
How to introduce flavors
Start with a thin puree of just one veggie at a time. Your infant needs to learn how to move food to the back of their mouth and swallow, and a thin puree is easier because it’s similar to breastmilk.
If he or she doesn’t immediately grasp how to suck off of a spoon, that’s okay. Put some puree on your finger and let them taste it from there first. And when you do transition to spoon-feeding, resist scraping the spoon on their upper lip. This encourages them to push food out of their mouth, known as the tongue-thrust reflex.
Once baby can swallow easily, gradually thicken the puree. A thick puree is the intermediary step between a thin puree and solid food.
Most infants are ready to start solids at 5-6 months. You will know it’s time when baby starts showing the following cues.
- Holds head up on own
- Sits upright
- Curious about what you’re eating
- Reaches out to grab food
- Tongue-thrust reflex is gone
- Readily accepts food from a spoon
- Keeps food in mouth and swallows it
It’s important for your child’s development that you introduce solids at the right time. Introducing solids too early or too late can cause problems like insufficient nutrition or tummy problems.
Purees and finger foods
To support a smooth transition to solid foods, begin flavor training early. At 4-5 months, introduce new flavors using thin purees. The key to building a healthy palate is to concentrate on savory foods, particularly vegetables. You do not need to include many fruits or any infant cereal at this time because every baby is born enjoying sweet foods.
From 4-6 months, slowly thicken the purees. This gets baby accustomed to thicker textures. Once baby keeps thick purees in their mouth and easily swallows them, it’s time to add appropriate finger foods. This occurs around 6 months.
Finger foods must be incredibly soft and small. Well-cooked veggies are our favorites. Small pieces of sour fruits like plums or tart cherries also help to diversify baby’s palate.
Once baby is 6 months, baby's iron stores start to reduce, baby needs to get extra iron now from food. At this time, concentrate on iron-rich foods, including legumes (like peas and lentils), leafy green purees, and meat or poultry purees.
Does baby need snacks?
Not really, up until 12 months, breast milk or infant formula is a baby’s primary source of nutrition. Offer formula or breast milk if baby is hungry between feeds. Once 7 months or older, minimally processed whole foods are an okay snack so long as they don’t replace normal milk feedings or meal times.
Establishing a feeding schedule
For the first few months of life, feeding is dictated by when baby is hungry. This is absolutely normal, and it’s important to follow your infant’s cues and feed them when they need it. After this initial hurdle passes, you can begin a daily routine.
The importance of a feeding schedule
Chaos rules during the first few months of baby’s life. After this, a feeding schedule puts you back in control.
When you establish a feeding routine, baby:
- Learns hunger and fullness cues
- Opens up to trying new foods thanks to hunger-driven motivation
- Becomes excited to eat, kickstarting the digestive process
- Forms a healthy relationship with food, learning to associate food with nutrition, not as a reward or cure from boredom
- Benefits from a regular routine
Over time, a feeding routine allows baby to develop a diverse palate and a healthy relationship with food. They will take these skills with them as they grow older.
What does a feeding schedule look like?
A feeding schedule looks different for every household, and at every stage of development. Establishing a pattern that works for you and your family is what’s important. Here are a few tips based on baby’s age.
4 to 5 months
Four months is when it becomes realistic to start a schedule. During this time, your baby’s primary nutrition source remains formula or breast milk.
Offer 1-2 flavor sessions per day. Offer baby milk first so they aren’t overly hungry. Wait around 30 minutes before offering ½ - 1 teaspoon of a single-food puree. Keeping it to a small ‘taste’ will ensure that baby's tiny tummy has room for the important milk feeds.
Make these sessions fun! Set aside time when you and baby are happy and calm. Ensure that you are in a comfortable space and listen to your baby’s cues. Never force them to try something when they don’t want to.
5 to 7 months
Continue sharing 1-2 meals per day with baby. You can increase the serving to up to 4 tablespoons of puree at one sitting.
7 to 12 months
This is the time when you can start to establish a regular routine. Include 2-3 meals per day, potentially during your family’s mealtimes. But be flexible. You and baby need to be in a happy place during meals to establish a healthy food culture.
To obtain balanced nutrition, you want baby to drink milk and eat solid foods. Up until 8-9 months, it is a good idea to offer milk before solids. After this, if baby drinks a lot of milk, try giving milk after food. But if baby only drinks small portions at a time, milk before food can be a good option. Experiment with offering milk before or after meals to find what’s right for your baby. And understand that what works now might change in two weeks!
Meals and portions
Your baby’s dietary needs change as they grow older. The best way to structure meals quickly evolves. Although every baby is different, you can use the following guidelines when you experiment to find the right strategy for you and your child.
0 to 4 months
Feed baby when they ask to be fed. Exclusively use breast milk or formula.
4 to 6 months
Breast milk or milk formula fulfils all of your infant’s nutritional requirements. Add in 1-2 flavor training foods per day. 30 minutes before you offer a veggie-based puree, have your baby feed on formula or breast milk.
During this stage, only offer 1-2 teaspoons during mealtime.
5 to 7 months
Meal timing and strategy remain the same at 5-7 months as 4-6 months. Share up to 2-4 tablespoons of puree or finger foods 1-2 times per day.
7 to 9 months
Solid food becomes an integral part of an infant’s diet around this time. Encourage 3-5 tablespoons of food 3 times per day, in addition to regular milk feedings.
9 to 12 months
Continue to slowly increase how much solid food baby eats. Aim for 4-5 tablespoons of food 3 times daily, in addition to regular milk feedings.
12 to 24 months
Once baby is 12 months old, you can choose to move them from breast milk or formula to full fat cow’s milk. You also have the option to continue breastfeeding until 24 months as baby will still benefit from the rich nutritional profile. If you choose to continue breastfeeding, baby can drink as much milk as they want. Slowly, complementary foods will become their primary source of nutrition. At the end of 24 months, the need for formula, breast milk, or cow’s milk nears zero.
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.