Babies aren’t really born with a sense of what they like and dislike. They are born with a preference for sweet tastes and they need to learn to enjoy other flavours. Little ones also need to develop the mouth control they need to enjoy different textures and consistencies – having only experienced liquid milk even a thick yogurt, let alone a soft cooked carrot, will feel wildly different!

Can babies really be fussy?

It can be easy to misunderstand a baby’s facial expression in response to a new taste or texture – a frown, gag or wince is very rarely anything to do with dislike, in fact it’s more likely to be shock or surprise at something new.

Lucy Thomas is a food expert who runs fun workshops encouraging children to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables. Over the years she has encouraged hundreds of children to eat a varied diet but then her own baby, Molly, turned out to be the fussiest eater ever!  With Lucy’s help and encouragement Molly learnt to eat a wide range of foods.

Lucy’s Top 10 tips to help a fussy eater develop a love of good food:

  1. Seating – check your baby is well supported in a comfy highchair – a towel down the side can give a snugger fit – with the tray just above their waist height. Highchairs can feel claustrophobic for babies, especially if the tray is too high and they can’t see the food on it. Pull your baby’s highchair up to the table, so you can eat with them – and chat too.
  1. Modelling is the best way to encourage your baby to explore and engage with food – babies love to copy and they’ll copy your actions, especially if you are enthusiastically enjoying your own food too!
  1. Dropping food is a phase that can continue for months, console yourself with the fact that it’s rarely to do with fussiness or a dislike of the food and more likely to do with your baby learning. The food is here on the highchair, now it’s there on the floor, now it’s back here on the highchair again! Enough to drive any parent to distraction – but it is just a phase and it will pass.
  1. Tiredness, teething and illness can all contribute to a baby’s fussiness with food. Illness and tiredness will often suppress a baby’s appetite. Whilst teething may mean your baby only wants to chew on dry hard foods such as rice cakes and breadsticks or cold hard foods like cucumber and celery. It may well interrupt weaning a little but you needn’t stop offering a wide variety of foods.
  1. Repetition is key – it can take up to 14 attempts before a baby learns to like a new food, especially more challenging ones, so don’t be surprised if a food is refused or thrown on the floor.  The next time your baby might squash and smear it across the high chair, a few days later the same food might be taken to the lips for a lick, and a week later it might be bitten or chewed and spat back out again. Continue to offer new foods alongside those your baby already eats – and if you feel the urge to give up try a change of scene, such as the supermarket trolley or park bench, and you may find a new food is accepted.
  1. Make some mess!  Be prepared for mess – wear an apron or pop a plastic tablecloth under the highchair and find a suitable bib. It’s important for babies to play with their food – to touch, feel and explore food without having their hands and face wiped every minute. If babies can squash, squeeze and smear their food, they learn more about textures.  Wiping hands and mouths throughout a meal desensitises your baby and prevents them from experiencing various textures on their skin, it also prevents them from smelling the food that’s round their lips and on their nose. Over wiping and cleaning your baby during a mealtime may actually lead to increased fussiness later on, especially in the toddler years.
  1. Offer two courses.  A savoury food followed by a sweet one is a great way to offer a wide range of tastes and provides variety and interest for your little one.
  1. Let your baby enjoy the real taste of vegetables. Don’t mask challenging tastes with easier ones, let your baby enjoy the real taste of veggies without the sweetness of fruit, or they may find them difficult to accept later on. For example, don’t mix broccoli with apple purée.
  1. Be adventurous with what you serve. It can be too easy to keep serving the same things.
  1. How much to eat. Let your baby decide when they’ve had enough, rather than encouraging them to clear their plates. You can offer an extra course of a yogurt or fruit-based pudding to get in a greater range of foods and nutrients.

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