Babies at this stage are busy passing all sorts of milestones – getting their first teeth, learning to crawl, becoming more independent from you. They are also becoming more self-aware and more confident. However, all this can mean that mealtimes become more challenging, as babies learn they are able to say 'no' to certain foods, or become easily distracted by other things.
Here's how to make sure that your mealtimes don't become a constant battleground.
Do let them have fun
At this age, babies need to be able to ‘trust’ the food you offer them. This means being able to play with, mash and yes, even, throw the food, so that your baby gets a good feel for what he’s eating.
If you let your baby get on with it, some food will – hopefully – end up in his mouth eventually. If it gets all too much to bear, clear up and move onto the next activity. If he's hungry later, he will let you know soon enough.
Don't fret about a bit of mess
Instead, reduce your stress levels and minimise the goo factor by kitting yourself out with the right feeding equipment. Long-sleeved bibs, a waterproof table cloth and splash mat on the floor are all smart investments and make life a lot easier. Removing any distractions such as TV or toys at the high chair is also a good idea.
Do move on from purees
Research has shown that it is important to move your little one on to more mashed foods and then adult textures from around one year. This helps to develop your baby’s chewing and swallowing muscles, and there’s evidence to suggest that babies who aren’t introduced to chewy foods early on could grow into fussy eaters later in life. If you’re stuck with purees, try bulking out the texture bit by tiny bit, starting with favourite flavours and gradually building up the consistency one day at a time. You could also try special toddler finger food snacks such as breadsticks or mini rice cakes as a textured alternative.
Don't give up
When your tot keeps refusing new foods that you've lovingly prepared, it's all too easy to lose heart and offer the same old 'safe' favourites. But it's important to encourage your tot to develop a taste for a varied diet. So keep offering vegetables at each meal. Try frozen mini vegetable pieces if you’re fed up with constantly dicing and splicing fresh veg that are left untouched; given enough exposure, he may eventually give in and nibble on a piece of carrot. You can also mix vegetables in with other meals such as by blending them into a pasta sauce or cottage pie. If your little one is particularly resistant to veggies, for your own peace of mind, top up his vitamin levels with plenty of fruit.
Do encourage independent eating
Fussiness at this age may be a result of your baby wanting to self-feed, and getting frustrated with you trying to take over. So try giving him a spoon of his own; for every spoonful he tries to feed himself, you could slip in another one. He might also prefer more finger foods such as strips of chicken, sticks of cucumber, pepper or carrot and chunks of cheese.
Don't offer too many snacks and drinks between meals
If your tot is stuffed full of snacks or drinks, they inevitably won't be as hungry at mealtimes. So it's perhaps not surprising if they start to refuse less familiar foods. Ideally drinks (other than breastmilk or formula) should be limited to water to protect baby teeth and avoid spoiling his appetite. Talk to your health visitor if you think you should be reducing the amount of each milk feed, as this can affect how hungry your baby is. Keep a diary of when the main snack times are and this will help you to identify any patterns.
Do consider if there's another reason
Don't just assume your baby is being difficult for no good reason. Think about the occasions when you don’t want to eat - when you're ill, unhappy or run-down. Similarly, sometimes a change in your baby's eating habits can be a symptom of something else – painful new teeth, stomach upsets, a cold or a change in childcare environment. Try to stay calm when changes happen. Don’t rush him as this will put pressure on him, which can reduce appetite and come across as fussiness. Try eating as a family, and offer plenty of praise when he does eat.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Mealtimes can be stressful for mums, especially when you are on your own. Always speak to your health visitor or doctor if you have any concerns about your baby’s eating. Many health centres offer weaning ‘clinics’ and advice on different meal options. Also chat to your other mummy friends; they’re likely to be the best people to reassure you that fussiness is completely normal!
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