When other people see Caleb eat his fruits and veggies, they would always ask me, "How did you teach him that?" I may have been fortunate that he's not a very picky eater, but my encouraging husband would tell me that I must have done something right to train him. It's not to say that this came so naturally for him. Like many parents, we've gone through a phase of struggle and frustration because our tot would refuse to eat anything that was not crunchy or cheesy. Let me emphasize that there are no hard and fast rules for this. These guidelines are what we have learned from experience and so far, they have helped us teach Caleb good eating habits. Let me note that these tips should be started as early as possible (as soon as your baby starts eating solids). Because the older your child gets, the more challenging it would be.
1. Serve natural food to your baby - Yes, instant soft cereals are convenient, especially if you are a working mom. But there is a solution! Prepare his meals in advance (good for 2-3 days). Store them in tight containers and freeze. Thaw the ones that will be consumed for the day in your fridge and reheat. We did this since Caleb was 6 months old, starting with just 1 kind of veggie. When he turned 9 months, we mixed different types of veggies, protein (usually fish, tofu, ground chicken or beef) with brown rice. Two to three days will help your child be familiar with the taste and texture of the vegetable you are serving.
2. Eat together with your baby at the dining table- I know this is quite challenging, but this will help build good eating habits for your child. Set regular time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do not feed him in front of the TV, when he's playing or doing something else. Sit him on his high chair and pray before meals. Later on, he will also learn to appreciate the fact that eating together as a family is a great bonding experience.
3. Allow your child to use his hands - As your child becomes more independent, let him explore food on his own. I tell you it's going to be messy, but just let your child be a child. You can clean up later. This was a bit hard for me to do, believe me!
4. Take him with you when you shop for groceries - I realized that most kids don't eat vegetables simply because they are not familiar with them. Sure, books and television will teach him about fruits and vegetables. But it's a different experience if he sees them in actual! In the grocery, let him hold the broccoli and the spinach. Repeat several times that broccoli and spinach are yummy, as if you are trying to brainwash him. Before you cook the veggies, show it to him again. Personally, I don't believe in "hiding" the veggies in the dish. Let him know that that is what you are serving him.
5. Be an example to your child - It's not really going to help if your kid sees you eating something different from what he's suppose to eat.
6. Expose him to recipe books and/or cooking shows - Again, it's about building familiarity.
7. Ditch the Kids' Menu - When dining out, order what you can share with your tot. This may be quite limiting for you, but sacrifices are to be made to train your child. Most choices in the kids menu are junk anyway. Ask for a bowl/ plate and let him know that he and mommy will sharing the fish and steamed green beans and carrots.
8. Be creative - Know what foods your kid loves to eat. Caleb likes soup and noodles and eggs. In his first year, I served vegetables in soups like minestrone, sotanghon soup, misua and omelettes.
9. Be consistent. Never give in and never give up - Expect cries, screams and kicks. When Caleb refused to eat, we take him out of his high chair and just ask him to go to his room to play or just read. Of course he cried louder. Usually his dad talked to him and explained why he needs to eat the food that is on the table. It goes something like, "Your mom prepared that specially for you and you will make her really happy if you eat your food." We do whatever is needed to cheer him up like sing a song (This is the way Caleb eats his food, eats his food, eats his food....). We also affirm him each time he makes a bite and give him a big hug after he tries to finish it.
10. Let him taste of different kinds of food (even junk food)- Occasionally, we allow Caleb to eat french fries, pizza, hotdog, chips and sweets at very limited amounts. We did not want him to crave for junk (like we do!) simply because he's deprived from them. You know that whatever is forbidden will only make you want to eat it more, right?
There you go, I hope these guidelines will help. All the best!