The reality is that introducing solid foods to your baby can be a lot of fun but it can also be very frustrating!
Lately I have been hearing new trends such as introducing meats first instead of cereal. This way the baby still gets the required iron and gets used to more solid and tastier food compared to baby cereal. And there is also the trend towards what is called the "No Purees" movement or "Baby-Led Weaning" where you skip the whole puree stage and go straight to solid finger foods.
You can read hundreds of books that all promise to have the right answer on how to make your child a happy eater. If it were only that easy :)! Ultimately you want your child to eat a variety of healthy foods every day, allowing him/her to grow.
Here are a few tricks that I have learnt over that last 3 years from my own experience with my boys as well as watching other friends, and from reading a variety of resources.
1) It's not about quantity. In our society, we tend to eat bigger portions than what we need, hence the percentage of obesity rising in children and adults. I remember getting very frustrated with my first son around 1 year of age when he was refusing to eat. One day, I almost force fed him his meal I was so upset. Needless to say it did not work. That is when I realized this made no sense. I called the Dieticians of Canada to get some advice and from then on, changed my tune to the following ... I never force our kids to eat. I offer them healthy foods and they choose what they eat. If they refuse a meal, I will not make a different meal for them but I will still offer other foods such as fruits and yogurt. I try to offer foods they like combined with new foods and they can choose from what is offered. Some meals go very well and some not that great. I try to not let it get to me.
2) Don't underestimate your baby. The puree stage should not last very long. Babies over 6 months of age are most often able to eat small soft pieces of food (right away if you follow the Baby-Led Weaning method and skip the puress altogether). The sooner they are able to eat pieces, the sooner they can feed themselves and be more independant. It will also help them develop their hand-eye coordination. So let them experiment and try to eat themselves. Don't be afraid of messes!
3) Snacks. These are the greatest thing to keep your child occupied as you try to do a few things like the dishes, folding laundry, during outings, etc. Always have many healthy snacks at hand. The no spill snack cups are great for little ones to feed themselves wihtout spilling everything on the floor. Always keep a close eye on your child when they are eating of course.
4) When you first introduce solids you usually do it on a full stomach following breast or bottle. Once you have passed that stage, be careful not to let your child overfill themsleves with milk of juice prior to meals as they will not feel hungry.
5) Juice. Personally I did not introduce juice until after 18 months of age and I always dilute it 1/4 juice, 3/4 water. In fact I rarely give my kids juice. They will drink milk or water instead. Only give them 100% juice and stay away from cocktails or sugar filled beverages.
6) Homemade purees. Ok so every Mom wants to give their children the best. And of course I made all of my first son's purees from scratch. It is very easy. However don't be too hard on yourself as there are lots of great ready made purees out there nowadays that are made from organic foods and with no additives. Just make sure you read the labels properly. My favorite: La mère poule. With my second son, I did both. Homemade and store bought. My son still turned out ok :)
7) Smoothies. My kids love smoothies. It is the perfect way to add things like veggies, grains, fibre, protein, etc. without them really noticing it. Add frozen fruits, yogurt, milk, wheatgerm and so much more.
8) Instead of a big meal, we sometimes have a "snack" meal where my kids will eat pieces of cheese, bread or crackers, carrots, fruits, raisins, etc. with a glass of milk. They enjoy the variety of little things on their plate and it is as nutritious and healthy as any other meals we make them.
9) Treats. We also are not as strict as what we started out to be with treats. We sometimes will let them have treats such as cookies, a piece of chocolate, pudding, etc. We even feed them kraft dinner, and zoodles at times. My theory is as long as they eat of a variety of foods, I am happy. Eating Kraft dinner now and then is not an issue for me but having it everyday is.
10) Let your kids help you prepare meals. They will most likely be more inclined at tasting it.
11) As they get older, let them choose what's for dinner now and then. Even if it is a Kraft Dinner or a grilled cheese :)
12) Last but not least, eat together as a family as much as you can and try to make mealtimes fun even if some days mealtimes are still a strugggle. Don't let it get to you. As long as your child is growing and is healthy, he/she is most likely eating enough.
I have also recently introduced a daily multivitamin for my 3 year old to ensure that he gets the necessary iron, vitamins and minerals when he doesn't eat as well some days. He loves taking it and if I forget, he reminds me every morning that he did not get his vitamin :)
I'd love to hear any of your little tricks for happy mealtimes. Please feel free to add your comments below.