When I first introduced solids to my babies, I remember I was so fixated on following the plan laid out by our pediatrician: Veggies first, one at a time, followed by fruits, then proteins. I was determined to raise “good eaters,” kids who would eat their fruits and veggies, who would not subsist on pizza and chicken nuggets alone. For a long time, they were avid, enthusiastic eaters who gobbled up whatever we spoon-fed them. But around the time they turned 18- months-old, they started refusing veggies. The “good eaters” I’d been bragging about were suddenly not!
I chose not to panic though, assuming it was just a phase. Spoiler alert: Yeah, it was just a phase. I mean, they’re still not thrilled about eating their veggies, but who is? What I learned though is that I had to do some creative thinking and find new ways to get them to eat their greens, even though it’s not their favorite. More important, I figured out that babies are self-aware little creatures and often their food strikes were their way of telling me they were ready to mix things up.
So if your baby suddenly doesn’t want certain purees (or any of them), try these strategies…
1. Introduce new foods to your baby’s diet as often as possible. “If you’ve been feeding your child the same purees for a while, she may need a change,” confirms Christina Schmidt Wood, a nutritionist and author of The Baby Bistro and The Toddler Bistro. She adds that taste preferences are formed by the age of 3, so now’s the time to expose your baby to a variety of flavors, to set them up for a lifetime of more adventurous eating. Just note that you should wait two to three days between new foods so that you can keep an eye out for food allergies.
2. Add spices to change the flavor of fruits and veggies she’s had often. It’s a misconception that babies need to eat bland, boring foods. “That gets old very quickly, so make their purees more interesting by adding a little nutmeg or cinnamon to their fruits, maybe basil or parsley to their veggies,” says Deena Blanchard, MD, a pediatrician based in New York City. As a reminder, sugar and salt do not count as spices — and it’s not healthy to eat a lot of that stuff anyway.
3. Experiment with different textures. When you first start your baby on solids, super smooth foods feel like the safest choice, but ultimately, you’ll want to give her new textures as well. According to Dr. Blanchard, in addition to experimenting with new flavors, your baby should be getting new mouth-feels as well. You’ll still be giving her soft, mushy foods, but with texture: Maybe you mash her sweet potatoes and beans instead of pureeing them, or you brown up ground beef into small crumbles instead of sticking it in a blender.
4. Let her feed herself: If a baby is giving you trouble when you try to spoon feed her, it might be less about the food, and more about the experience. Developmentally, once a baby is sitting up, as well as reaching and grabbing for foods, she’s ready to try herself. “Even at a young age, some babies want to self-feed, so let her, and eating will become more of a sensory, exciting experience,” says Dr. Blanchard. Sure, it’s going to get messy, but if it gets your baby to eat, it’s worth it. You can add in finger foods, such as cooked and chopped pastas, chopped fruits and veggies, small bites of hard boiled or scrambled eggs, shredded cheese, cooked beans, soft breads and muffins, when your child is around 9-months-old, adds Wood.
5. Try foods over and over, even if he’s rejected them before. Just because your baby has started shunning his peas doesn’t mean he’s over it forever. “It can take a baby 10 to 15 times of trying a food to like a food, so don’t give up,” says Dr. Blanchard. “It takes time to get used to certain flavors, and that’s okay.” Also, kids go through phases with foods, so just cause he’s suddenly shunning avocados or spinach or meats, doesn’t mean it’s permanent.
6. But don’t get pushy about it. Forcing a child to eat when they don’t want to is a huge no-no. “Your job as a parent is to decide when, where and what healthy foods to offer,” says Wood. “Your baby gets to decide which ones he wants to eat and how much.”
7. Take the good with the bad. If she’s not digging the spinach puree, consider mixing it in with her favorite purees. “If you combine something they like, with something they’re adverse to, it can increase your baby’s willingness to eat it,” says Wood. She recommends combining meats with fruits or root veggies, like chicken with pear or turkey with beets. You can also try avocado with banana, or grains with yogurt and fruit.
8. Eat with her. When it comes to getting babies or toddlers to eat, a lot of it is monkey-see, monkey-do. So have family dinner if possible, or even just family breakfast. And eat what they eat, just in grown-up form — say roasted broccoli for yourself, steamed broccoli for your preschooler, and then broccoli puree for the baby, says Dr. Blanchard.
9. Hand him a pouch. If spoon-feeding purees isn’t working, you might also want to try giving him a puree squeezer. It’s a less messy way to allow him to self-feed, and it’s a new experience. Dr. Blanchard also recommends freezing a fruit pouch and giving it to your little as a treat. “It’s almost like a slushy, and it’s also hydrating,” she says.
No matter what, you don’t need to panic if your child is shunning some of their previously-loved purees. With these strategies, they’re likely to get back to healthy eating habits.