We all want the best for our children. We want them to grow up to be well-rounded adults who are kind and have an appetite for learning and take the world head on. We also want them to grow to be healthy adults who make the right choices with the foods they eat and know how to maintain a balanced diet, and much of those skills start from a very young age.
There was a recent study published by McMaster University urging parents not to delay food introductions during the first year of life, as they were found to be nearly four times as likely to be sensitized to things like cow’s milk, egg and peanut butter — developing allergies later on. Only you and your doctor know what’s best for your little one, but if you’re interested in encouraging your baby to eat the rainbow, here’s what I found helps the most.
1. Don’t push solids before they’re ready
I would say that hands down, this is the most important tip of all. There is a reason that doctors recommend an age range of 4 to 6 months for starting solids, because you have to make sure your little one is ready. Your baby will have no interest in eating the rainbow if you start too early.
You want to take notice of things like when they show an explorative personality, can hold their head up and master tongue movement. Also take note of their hunger. If they are getting enough breast milk or formula each day but still seem hungry, it might be time for solids. You’ll know best, and don’t be hesitant to just ease into it, as you definitely don’t need to start with three solid meals per day.
2. Make your own purées
Making your own food not only gives you control over what’s going into your baby’s food, but it also gives your little one the opportunity to see different fruits and veggies when they are the colors they’re actually supposed to be. I know it’s gross to think about, but shelf-stable baby food is able to sit for years at stores or on your shelves at home, is filled with preservatives and is rarely the actual color of the fruit or vegetable it contains. Your baby’s palate will already be brightened just by making it on your own. Just some food for thought.
3. Add different herbs
After your baby has gone through all the Stage 1 foods (basically everything by itself), Stage 2 is where you get to have a little bit of fun and add more colors to their diets. Don’t be afraid to add (often overlooked) herbs like mint, rosemary and parsley to help expand their palate at a young age. One of my little one’s favorite mixtures is pea, pear and mint, and it’s so refreshing!
As a little extra tip here: Don’t be afraid to dip your finger in and give these combinations a taste too. If you happen to come across something that you and the rest of your family loves, freeze the purée in ice trays to use as smoothie boosters later on.
4. Mix fruits & veggies together
An additional way to help your little one develop a more explorative palate and truly eat the rainbow all day long is to mix veggies and fruits together. Too often, we group only fruits with fruits and vegetables with vegetables when there are so many great combinations of the two for your little one to love their whole life long. One of our favorites ended up being a completely unlikely duo: beets and bananas.
5. Don’t forget to add texture
Too often, we forget that as baby grows, so does their need for texture and variety in what they’re eating. Adding things like small pieces of pasta and quinoa are a great way to add texture or simply keep some small chunks of whichever food you are making so they learn to chew them as they grow.
I’m going to leave you with one last little bit of advice. Try to stay away from food pouches as much as possible. We use them when we’re on the go or on vacation because it’s just easier (believe me, I get the ease of the food pouches), but they do nothing developmentally for babies as they learn to chew and swallow and they aren’t able to see the food they’re eating. If possible, make sure food is visible to your baby and it will help them develop the healthiest possible relationship with food.