Kid Eats Q&A: My 1 year old will eat anything I put in front of her, but what should I be putting in front of her?
This is a great question—thanks Lorena for asking it on my Facebook Page— because almost every parent I know underestimates their baby’s eating ability.
What should you feed your 1 year old?
- Ravioli with sage butter, pecorino and crispy sage leaves...
- Cannellini beans with rosemary oil, garlic confit, and shallots...
- Lentils with caramelized onions, and wilted arugula...
Sound too ambitious? For mere mortals, perhaps, but not if you’re New York Times food writer Keith Dixon. Read Momma, I’ll Have Some of Whatever You’re Having. It tells the story of how Dixon and his wife bought a food mill to make “traditional” food purees for their baby but were soon churning out gastronomical mega-mashes. (Oh, how I wish I ate this well.)
Think of this early eager-eater phase as a food-training period. Not just for your baby, but for YOU.
Let me explain.
Most 1 year olds will eat anything. It’s a delight to feed them. And as long as you pay attention to the usual concerns—allergies, choking and overly “hot” spices—you can feel free to put anything you like in front of your little tyke.
Sadly, the eager-eating stage usually ends sometime between 15 and 24 months, and this is when most feeding systems crash and burn.
The only thing that is going to save you, that will get you through the picky “you can’t make me eat it” phase, is to switch your mindset from nutrition to habits. That takes practice.
It's one of the great paradoxes of parenting: If you focus on nutrition your kids are most likely to develop bad eating habits because you'll be tempted to serve foods that barely pass the nutrition "sniff test" and to employ "questionable" feeding tactics. If you focus on shaping your child's habits, however, the nutrition will naturally fall into place.
Here are some guidelines to get you through the good times...and everything else!
1) Put as wide a variety of foods in front of your eager-eater as possible.
Expose your eager-eater to a wide range of tastes and textures so more foods are familiar, not foreign. And keep mixing up what you serve to teach the idea eating different foods on different days is the expected way to go!
Read House Building 101.
2) Think about food from your eager-eater’s perspective.
Want your eager-eater to keep up with fruits and vegetables? Don’t overdo sweet, salty or crunchy foods otherwise these are the kinds of foods they'll gravitate to: French fries and chicken nuggets (not spinach and broccoli).
3) Don’t assume your eager-eater will only like bland food.
Lots of kids love intense flavors. Indeed, research shows that kids who eat foods high in sugar, salt and fat—the basic “Child-friendly” diet—end up seeking out these kinds foods in order to achieve a “flavor-hit.” They’re going for the high! Train your eager-eater to buzz from basil, crave some curry...
4) Give up trying to predict what your eager-eater will like.
Figuring out what your eager-eater will eat is really a guessing game. Research shows parents make accurate predictions about what their children will eat or like only about 50% of the time. In other words, you might as well toss a coin. (And remember, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean your eager-eater won’t!)
5) Don’t expect your eager-eater to eagerly eat today what she eagerly ate yesterday.
Kids are fickle. Maddeningly so. In fact, it's this characteristic of kids that trips most parents up.
Research shows that young kids don’t have stable taste preferences. What they are willing to eat is based as much on their mood as their mouth. So cook what you want to eat, not what you think your eager-eater will eat.
Still worried about allergies and choking?
Here are some tips.
Though I know a handful of experts who no longer recommend that you “test” out new foods by introducing them one at a time—if your child experiences an allergic reaction to a mixed dish you can always work backwards to identify the allergen—most pediatricians still stand by the one-at-a-time approach. But this doesn’t mean you have to test out every ingredient. Use herbs and spices as desired.
- Cook food well enough so that you can easily mash it with a fork.
- Consider adding liquid to dry foods to make them easier to swallow.
- Cut food into bites that can be swallowed without chewing, i.e. about the size of a raisin.
Remember, it's not what you feed, but what you teach, that matters.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~