Increasing mealtimes and food variety

Summary
  • Between 6 and 12 months, meals with solid food are gradually introduced. 
  • You decide how you increase the number of meals and which ones are added.
  • Eating together can start now.
  • Baby has sensitive taste buds; some foods taste stronger and take longer to get used to.
  • Offer baby food without any pressure or expectation to eat it. 
  • Provide new foods alongside those foods baby already eats. 

Increasing the number of meals provided to baby 

Between 6 and 12 months, meals with solid food are gradually introduced. By the time baby is around 11-12 months they should be having between 4 and 6 structured meals (3 main meals and 1 to 3 midmeals) alongside breastmilk (or infant formula).

The time of day you provide baby meals, when you introduce a new meal and which new meal you introduce are all decisions you make. You will start with one structured solid food meal, choosing the time of day which best suits you and baby, then add another and another over time as a meal pattern is established.

Example of adding in meals and snacks over a baby’s day. This is just an example. Your journey is likely to be a bit different. 

Alongside increased number of meals, you might be increasing the amounts, number of foods at each meal, while challenging baby with different textures as time goes on.

Quote from PICNIC parent. Our Bubs are 7 months. I'm serving up2 meals with a couple of different foods each time, while my friend is proving 4 meals with smaller amounts. This suits both us and our babies.

Structured, regular meals are important    

Setting up a meal structure and positive meal environment now will help with the development of baby’s long term dietary patterns, food preferences and relationship with food over the next few years. 

Structured meals help children know another meal or snack is just around the corner. They will learn they can stop eating at any meal when they feel like it, as another meal will follow. If they don’t eat anything at one meal, you can relax knowing they will have an opportunity to eat at the next meal, in a couple of hours.

Main meals and mid meals are all important. We never know which meal they’ll be hungrier for. Babies and young children have little tummies and need opportunities to eat foods more often (every 2 -3 hours). 

Time to develop hunger between meals and time to eat until satisfied at meals.

Children who graze all day without structured meals won’t learn about hunger and fullness. Time between meals gives children the opportunity to become hungry and then the opportunity at meals to be satisfied. Knowing this is really important for long term health! 

Structured meals also allow you to monitor what they eat. Without meals its more difficult for you to keep track of how much and what your child has eaten, when they are grazing and eating on the run.

Introducing new foods to baby

Between 6 and 12 months, we increase the number of foods baby is offered. You can introduce any number of new foods at a time, in any order. It’s up to you and baby how you go about this.

You might offer foods from each of the five food groups first. Once they are accepted you might then increase the variety of from each food group as they are accepted. This is how variety increases.  For more information on visit Which foods to serve’ 

Baby’s taste buds naturally prefer sweet foods over bitter or sour foods. Stronger flavoured foods may not be accepted as quickly. Baby may accept fruits, breads, and cereal foods, bland meats such as chicken, bland vegetables such potato, pumpkin or avocado, more quickly than stronger tasting meats, such as beef and vegetables such as broccoli and mushrooms. 

Food types accepted easily and others that take a little longer to be accepted

We should include stronger flavoured foods with meals even if they don’t like them at first. This will give baby time to become familiar and for them to become accepted. If we start offering baby foods from only the cereal and fruit groups, they will get used to less challenging tastes, and they might find it harder to get used to vegies and meat.

Include stronger flavoured foods with more easily accepted foods at meals

Each baby is on a different journey with some faster and some slower to progress. The babies who take a bit more time, will do better when we accept this is normal for some babies and it doesn’t change how we feed. 

Meal or milk first?
When babies have developed their chewing and swallowing skills, they can move to having their solid foods before breastmilk or formula. You might find this happens around 9 months of age.

Accepted foods’ and new ‘still learning’ foods

Include new foods with familiar foods that have already been accepted. Your baby will learn to eat an unfamiliar food once they see it again and again. This can take the pressure off and give them an ‘out’ as they can see there is something they know available, making them feel braver about tasting, and perhaps even eating the new food.

If you’ve served up 3 foods, and they only eat one and refuse the others that’s ok… it’s normal. Don’t apply any pressure for them to eat the other foods. This is the key to children learning to like new foods on their own terms. For more information on the feeding roles click here.

All safe foods diet won't increase in variety

All new foods, baby won't have a fall back and likely won't try anything.

New and safe foods. Serve both 'Accepted foods' and 'Still learning' foods

There are many things that can influence how long baby might take to accept a new food. This can be frustrating and confusing as a parent. They are learning lots of other new things at this age. It is important to stay patient and progress when your baby is ready.

Ups and downs of mealtime

Get used to the ups and downs of feeding!

Baby rejecting a new food is an important step in becoming familiar and feeling safe with the food. They will eventually learn that it’s not harmful, and if you provide it regularly to them, they’ll eventually build up enough courage to taste it. Trying and accepting new foods is a skill that baby will learn. For more information on ‘How to’ feed.

You can’t make them eat or like something, you can just offer it and let them decide.

Food before one is just for fun?… sort of… but not quite! 

This is common phrase which refers to breastmilk or formula initially providing the majority of baby’s nutrition, with the amount of solid food baby eats increasing. Eating should be joyful and fun, but don’t forget iron rich foods are important with first solid foods, and this time is really important for baby to get used to new tastes and textures as they learn to eat. Providing greater variety between 6-12 months promotes food acceptance and diet quality later in childhood.

The meal environment/family meals 

The most important ingredient at mealtime is YOU! Pull your little one up to the table facing everyone and get them involved with family meals from the start. Try not to have two eating times, one for you and one for them. You might need to eat a little bit earlier and they eat a little bit later. Eating with everyone there is not always possible, but when we can, eat together.

Eat together when you can

image of dads sitting having a meal with babies

Get used to the family eating from the same available foods, together. Baby can have a modified version of what you are eating. Family meals offer emotional and social learning opportunities.

They learn from watching you and will be more courageous trying new foods when they see you eating them first. When you’re all eating the same food, they’ll know it’s safe and may be more willing to have a try. 

Parents who eat more fruit and vegetables have children who eat more of these foods themselves. That also goes for less healthy foods … you eat more they eat more! Don’t expect them to eat a food if you don’t.

Everyone chooses their food from the same foods

The strongest predictor children fruit and vegetable intake is parents intake.

Enjoy pleasant mealtimes 

The goal is to make meals a pleasant time. Be there for your child, keep them company, talk with them, help them with their eating (no pressure!) and enjoy this time yourself! 

image of parent holding babies hand

Don’t use this time to bring up negative topics likely to upset people, or use table time for disagreements with your partner, or other children. Your child will get upset. Once they are upset the likelihood of a positive mealtime becomes much less. Your child will not want to try new foods and their appetite will be overcome by their feeling of being upset.

Baby can be overcome by feeling upset, they will lose their appetite and won’t want to try new foods 

image of babies upset at mealtime

Remember to keep to your feeding roles. Trying to restrict or pressure your child’s eating will turn dinner into a battle ground. A lot of meals have been ruined with fights over vegetables! 

Know when meals are over. If baby hasn’t eaten or shown interest in eating for some time, it might be time to call it quits on the meal. You can assume they are not hungry anymore. If they keep playing with their food, you might let the meal sitting go a bit longer, as they explore and learn about the food. Around 20 minutes is usually enough time for children to become satisfied. There’s no need to drag it out, they can eat again at the next meal. 

Distractions

Don’t have any distractions at the table that compete with eating. It’s all about the people and the food. Baby will stay much more in tune with their hunger and fullness feelings and know when to stop eating. Baby is born with a really good sense of hunger and fullness, and we need to preserve this. 

Embrace the mess

It can get very messy! Your baby needs to get to know the food through playing and getting messy. This helps baby become familiar with different textures, sounds, smells, colours/shapes, taste of foods and self-feeding by touching food and putting it near or in their mouth.

When placing your baby in a highchair, they might be learning about height and gravity by dropping things from the chair. This is an important part of development. If it becomes all about throwing food around, then you’ll know they are not hungry, and the meal is over. They do need to learn to behave at meals eventually as well! Try to stay calm and patient.

It’s great to get a mess management system! Feed above tiles, lino or another surface that is easily cleaned. Get a plastic sheet under the highchair if your table is on carpet, have a washcloth handy (just don’t clean baby during the meal). Try using a suction plate or bowl, which your child can’t pick up or throw.