Having a child that is happy to try new foods and readily accept the foods we offer is the ultimate goal… but this isn’t always the case and it is common for many babies and/or toddlers to decline new foods from an early stage.
When it comes to meat, tips on encouraging your wee ones to eat it or suggestions around why your toddler has gone off it all together is something we get asked a lot.
Often an aversion to eating meat can be something that has developed over time; i.e. many babies seem to be accepting of meat being offered early on as part of a purée / smoother texture but as we begin to introduce it in other ways, similar to how we would eat it as adults, then this seems to be when our children have other ideas!
The purpose of this Sprout Article is not to outline the nutritional benefits of including meat in your wee one’s diet (check out our other articles: ‘Why do we introduce solids?’ and ‘Is your baby getting enough iron?’ for information around offering your child a nutritionally balanced diet), but rather to give some tips and tricks for how to encourage your baby or toddler to readily accept this food as we know it’s a common issue amongst many parents.
Food aversions and fussy eating is a whole topic on its own but setting up healthy food associations, including introducing a wide variety of foods prepared in many different ways, will help make this time in your wee one’s food journey a happy one for both of you.
The best advice we can give is to have a plan in place. Whether you’re in the early stages of introducing solids to your baby or they are well established (or somewhere in between), then having a firm plan in place around how you will react to food aversions will help make any issues you do encounter, easier and less stressful for the both of you. Our children look to us for guidance, and being confident of your reaction from the outset, is often the first step to helping achieve your goal.
Here’s some tips we suggest when it comes to including meat in your baby and toddler’s diet:
Don’t get stuck on purées!
An aversion to meat often happens later when we try to introduce meat to our children in a form closer to what we ourselves eat (steak, meatballs, patties, kebabs etc). And this is often linked to meat only being offered in a smooth purée consistency for too long. In fact, the smooth purée stage is very short (around 1 month), after which it’s important to start offering more textures to your little one. Have a plan in place around how you can incorporate meat using different textures that are suitable for your baby’s age and eating stage. If your wee one is more established on solids, then often starting with softer options (i.e. meat in a slow cooker / casserole and then pulled apart, or in a Bolognese type recipe), is often more accepted and then you can try introducing more textures / other options as you progress.
Offer lots of variety
This not only relates to different meats (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, venison, fish) and meat alternatives, but also in the way they are prepared and therefore their texture. Think meatballs, stews, casseroles, Bolognese, patties, crumbed, schnitzel (depending on your wee one’s eating age and ability), and mixed into a dish as well as being offered as more of a finger food or stand alone offering as part of a ‘meat and three vege’ meal. Offering a range of recipes and preparations to your child regularly (even if they don’t eat it or eat only a little) is so important to normalise different foods/ingredients and cooking methods.
Watch your reaction
When we encounter issues with our wee ones around food aversions or preferences, it can be so easy to stop offering that particular food, and/or when they do eat or try something they have previously declined, to do a wee celebratory dance and over-praise the behaviour. When in actual fact, the best thing we can do is to just stay very neutral. If they decline something, that’s okay - just offer it again another time; if they eat it when they have previously declined, great – but sing that victory song in your head.
Offer it. Offer it again. Offer it again and again and again…
Babies and toddlers can take many times to readily accept a new food, in some cases up to 15 or more! So, if you’re in the early stages of introducing solids then keep on offering. The same can apply as your baby gets older; keep offering. If it’s on the plate, then they are regularly exposed to it, which means they have the opportunity to try.
Put it on another plate
Just having a food that your wee one continually declines nearby i.e. on another plate (even your plate or their sibling’s plate, or on the table to self-serve during a family meal), can help normalise it for them and expose them to that food. If they don’t see it or you stop preparing and offering it, then there is no opportunity for them to change their response to that food gradually over time.
Offer a suitable quantity
As adults, it can be quite confronting to have a large quantity of something you don’t like placed in front of you that you are expected to eat. Keep this in mind when you are serving up your wee one’s meals; offer only a small quantity of the food they’re not usually a fan of (as small as one or two mouthfuls even) and keep your expectations low. If your child is accepting of something they usually dislike on their plate in a small quantity, then take this as a small win and continue to try some of the other points above.
Above all else, try and keep top of mind that your baby is on a journey when it comes to eating. Their individual tastes and preferences will continually change and develop as they grow. At the end of the day, we can’t MAKE them eat anything; nor do we want to turn mealtimes into an unpleasant battle! Offering them a wide variety of foods from each of the four food groups (vegetables and fruits, breads and cereals (grains), milk and milk products, lean meat and meat alternatives) regularly, is our job as parents and caregivers - but this approach will generally also mean over time, with regular exposure, they will learn to enjoy a variety of foods and in turn their nutritional needs will be met, helping your wee one grow and thrive.
For a wide variety of recipes for your older baby/toddler, check out our recipe collections (click here), or if you’re just starting your baby on solids, then check out our nutritionally reviewed guide to solids (click here). It includes everything you need to know, including a comprehensive list of suitable foods for your baby’s age and stage and a 30 day step by step starting solids food plan, and LOTS more, to help set you and your baby up on a path of healthy eating and good nutrition.
If you are concerned in any way about your wee one’s growth or development or their nutritional intake, please speak to your child’s general practitioner for specialised medical advice.