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10 ways to introduce variety and texture

Help your six- to eight-month-old grow up to be a healthy eater by offering a wide variety of flavors and textures now.

7 mins
to read Jan 5, 2021

As your baby grows and develops he’ll be able to eat a wider range of foods. Introducing new flavor combinations to your baby’s meals can be fun and rewarding. Your baby may need up to eight tries of a new food, offered over several days or weeks, to accept it so don’t be easily discouraged.

When introducing new foods, remember to keep an eye out for signs of intolerance and allergy. Although breast milk will remain his main source of nutrition until his first birthday, his menu can be expanded now. You can start offering combinations of foods once he has tried and mastered single-ingredient foods. Exposing him to new flavors and textures now may make him more likely to eat new foods in the future, so get creative!

Thank goodness for fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are perfect for your baby because they are rich in important nutrients, including:

  • vitamin A—for healthy eyesight and cell growth
  • vitamin C—an antioxidant that helps keep gums healthy, and can help babies absorb iron when eaten at the same time as iron-rich (non-meat) foods, such as fortified baby cereal
  • potassium—a mineral that helps your baby’s nervous system and muscles work well
  • fiber—helps prevent constipation and can help keep your baby’s digestive system moving

Here are 10 tips for introducing new textures and flavors of fruit and vegetables, and other foods, into your baby’s diet:

  1. Don’t give up easily
    Studies have shown that babies may need to try a food up to eight times before they accept it. In a series of studies, seven-month-old babies who learned to like a previously disliked vegetable—by tasting it several times—were shown to continue to like that vegetable through the age of 15 months, three years, and up to six years. Your baby may make funny faces (or looks of surprise) when trying a new food, but it is often only because it is a food he hasn’t tasted before. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it. Even if he spits something out, don’t be discouraged, it doesn’t mean he will never eat that food. Be patient and offer it again the next day. Foods that, at first, it seems your baby doesn’t like may become firm favorites after several tastes over a few days or weeks. Even a tiny taste (one small teaspoon) can help him learn to like a new vegetable. These flavors and textures are new and your baby needs the opportunity to learn to accept and enjoy them.ny more of that particular food and speak to your healthcare provider. Be aware that an allergic reaction is different to your baby spitting out food because the flavor or texture is new, or he’s full (see Hungry or full? Nine faces of feeding).
  2. Follow the 1-in-3 approach
    Offer your baby one new food about every three days so you can watch for signs of intolerance or sensitivity. If you suspect a reaction, don’t give him any more of that particular food and speak to your healthcare provider. Be aware that an allergic reaction is different to your baby spitting out food because the flavor or texture is new, or he’s full (see Hungry or full? Nine faces of feeding).
  3. Make mealtimes social
    Sit at the table with your baby while he’s in his high chair. Smile, chat with him, and look into his eyes. Use simple words and an upbeat tone as you tell him “here comes a bite” and let him eat at his own pace. Making mealtimes a positive experience, and establishing healthy eating habits now, may last a lifetime.
  4. Feed frequently
    Babies have tiny tummies compared to adults, so make his portions small. Expect to eventually offer him three meals and two or three snacks per day.
  5. Try traditional favorites first
    Once your baby is eating a good source of iron, such as iron-fortified baby cereal or pureed meat, to help meet his iron needs for healthy brain growth, don’t be afraid to then offer strongly flavored fruits and vegetables. Although the natural sweetness of apples, bananas, carrots, and sweet potatoes make them favorite first foods for many babies, try offering a mix of different tastes. Babies will accept a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, even those we think are bitter, and now is the perfect time to introduce these flavors.
  6. Mix new with old
    First try of a new taste? Combine it with a familiar favorite to help your baby learn to accept and enjoy it.
  7. Eat a rainbow
    Different-colored fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients, so try to include a variety of hues in your baby’s bowl over the next few weeks. This will give your little one the vitamins and minerals he needs to grow and develop healthily. Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients—chemical compounds produced by plants that have benefits to health that scientists are still discovering.
  8. Don’t forget dairy
    Your little one can now have yogurt, which provides calcium and important nutrients to help build strong bones while he’s growing fast. Look for plain, unsweetened yogurts, or low-sugar yogurts that have been specially designed for his nutritional needs.
  9. Hold the sugar
    There’s no need to add sugar when you’re preparing food for your baby, or to offer him sweetened beverages. Some leading nutrition and health experts suggest that fruit juice shouldn’t be introduced in the first year because of its relatively high natural sugar content. Pureed or mashed fruit has some fiber that juice will not, and your baby may likely eat this right up. If you do choose to offer juice, give it to him in a cup rather than a bottle, and limit it to no more than 120ml (4oz) per day. Avoid juice drinks or other blended juice-like beverages that contain added sweeteners. Always check the label.
  10. Drink up
    During his first year, breast milk is your baby’s main source of nutrition and fluids. Now is a good time for your baby to learn to enjoy water. Try offering a little (30-60ml or 1-2oz) in a cup with meals and snacks to help him enjoy water as a thirst-quencher that isn’t sweetened. Drinking water will help as he learns to move food around his mouth and swallow, as well as teaching him to drink from a cup. And, introducing your baby to drinking water now, can help him enjoy it as his drink of choice in the future. It’s important to be aware that cow’s milk shouldn’t be given as a drink until after your baby’s first birthday.

Ready for texture?

Once your baby is used to eating smooth, pureed foods, he may be ready for some foods with a thicker texture or small, soft lumps. “Babies develop the oral motor skills for managing texture between six and 12 months of age,” says Sarah Smith-Simpson, PhD, Principal Scientist and Feeding Expert at Nestlé Nutrition in Michigan, USA. “Their tongues learn to move solid food around their mouths so that it can be swallowed, and babies will practice moving their tongues side to side when eating more advanced textures with lumps. These skills are based on experience with texture, rather than developing at a certain age.” Here are a few ideas for introducing texture:

  • try mashed banana or mashed avocado instead of pureed
  • offer well-cooked scrambled egg
  • add couscous, rice, or tiny pasta pieces to smooth purees
  • prepare cooked or soft foods, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, using a hand blender (using short bursts), masher, or fork until you have a chunky, mashed texture
  • add porridge oats to well-chopped soft fruit or low-sugar yogurt designed especially for babies

Sources

Black MM, Aboud FE. Responsive feeding is imbedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. J Nutr 2011; 141(3):490-4. 

 

Maier A, Chabanet C, Schaal B et al. Effects of repeated exposure on acceptance of initially disliked vegetables in 7-month old infants. Food Quality and Preference 2007; 18:1023-32. 

 

Maier-Noth A, Schaal B, Leathwood P et al. The lasting influences of early food-related variety experience: A longitudinal study of vegetable acceptance from 5 months to 6 years in two populations. PLoS One 2016; 11(3): e0151356. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151356.  

 

Nicklaus S, Demonteil L, Tournier C. Modifying the texture of foods for infants and children. In: Modifying Food Texture, Volume 2. Elsevier, 2015: 187-222. 

  

Nicklaus S. Complementary feeding strategies to facilitate acceptance of fruits and vegetables: A narrative review of the literature. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2016; 13(11): 1160; doi: 10.3390/ijerph13111160.