Alice, now 10 months old, has gone on a solid food strike. All of a sudden, my previously adventurous “please-give-me-what-you’re-eating-RIGHT-NOW” eater has decided that she’s done with solids. No more, thank you very much. Not only will she no longer swallow the yogurt she used to love, she doesn’t even want to hold a carrot stick to gnaw on. These days, it’s all breast milk all the time.
Is it because she’s teething? Is it because he’s becoming a very selective eater? Is it because she’s never going to eat solid foods and will breast feed forever? The answers are probably, probably not, and definitely not. Yet these questions inevitably come to mind during these food strikes. So what’s really going on?
Right on Schedule
Dr. Sears says that babies between 6 and 12 months of age often go through a passing stage of refusing solid foods in favor of breast milk/formula. He suggests that this preference is likely due to the ease and familiarity of sucking from the breast or bottle versus the “hard work of swallowing solid food.” This is also a period of intense physical growth and development – when most babies will begin crawling and even walking – and their demand for calories may be more easily met by this familiar method of eating (breast/bottle). Whatever the reason, as long as your little one is getting the calories he needs there is no need to panic. Continue offering a variety of healthy, highly nutritious foods – eventually he’ll come around.
In the meantime, here are a few other things you can do:
- Feed on demand. Remember that this is a phase and your long-term goals are to (a) promote your little one’s ability to self-regulate and (b) teach the habits of healthy eating. With these goals in mind, allow your baby to feed on demand. This will ensure that she is listening to her internal signals and that she is getting all the nutrients she needs. You might also try offering solid foods after she’s fully fed, so that she can happily explore the food without the expectation of eating.
- Add healthy fat. Fat – especially healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fat – is the primary energy source in the first year of life and it’s critically important for healthy growth and development. Regardless of whether or not his growth seems affected, make sure that the solid food you offer your son during these food strikes are chock full of healthy fats. For formula fed babies, add ½ tsp of Flaxseed Oil to each bottle. To all babies offer avocados, which are full of healthy monounsaturated fats. Simply mash it up, maybe mixed with a little banana, sweet potato, or butternut squash, and let him eat it off your finger.
- Offer a variety of nutrient-dense foods. When you daughter decides to boycott solids, make sure that anytime they are placed in front of her they are packing a nutritional punch. This way, if any little bit does end up in her mouth, it’s serving her well! Great choices include avocados, whole-milk yogurt, tofu, eggs, and vegetables. Offer a variety of textures and shapes. Sit with her to eat and her how much you enjoy what you’re eating. You might also change the way a food is presented: bake sweet potatoes in French fry shapes rather than mashed, bake oatmeal after it’s cooked and cut into little cubes or sticks. Acceptance and avoidance may eventually happen when a child simply recognizes a given food. Although this is more likely to happen when your daughter is a little older, mixing up your presentation style now can’t hurt!
- Redefine “baby” food. Have you been using mostly pureed foods? Maybe this is your son’s way of asking for something new. Try offering different textures, new foods, or letting him feed himself. Or go even further and start giving him the same healthy foods you’re eating. Fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oils, herbs and spices, lean meats and fish – start introducing these flavors to your baby now. Research shows that the introduction of solid foods is a critical period for developing taste buds and can influence your son’s acceptance of foods now and later in life. We also know that repeated exposure to a food is one of the primary determinants of acceptance, so begin giving a variety of healthy foods – especially vegetables which might be initially refused by the infant – early and often.
- Share your plate. I mean this quite literally: bring your daughter onto your lap and share your plate. Personally, I start Alice in her chair at the table with the rest of us, but, lately, she inevitably squirms out (she’s even made it up onto the table!). At this point I take her out and let her sit on my lap for a while, where she can watch me eat (from very close range!). Often this is enough to get her interested in at least trying the food, but that doesn’t happen every time. Some nights she just wants down to explore on her own, other nights she’s happy to sit and watch. My goal is to have her be a part of dinner – in the least disruptive way possible – for a little while and to continue offering food. If she declines, that’s up to her.