According to recent studies babies are more likely to enjoy the foods their moms ate while breastfeeding over new foods they were never exposed to. "We know flavors from a mom's diet are transmitted to her baby through breast milk," says Julie A. Mennella, Ph.D., a biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Babies can detect the flavors and, if they have experience with those flavors, they are going to be more accepting of the food." The lesson? If you're breastfeeding, start Baby's love of veggies early by piling some on your own plate.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's a good idea to introduce your child to solid foods starting at 6 months. You can add cooked (pureed) veggies to the mix as soon as you want, but be sure to avoid potential allergens, such as corn. Try starting with sweet- or mild-flavored vegetables, such as winter squash or carrots. Avocado is also a great food to introduce early because of its naturally baby-friendly texture. Feeding a few teaspoons of veggies once a day for a week can help Baby get accustomed to the flavor. Then, gradually increase the amount until Baby is eating half a cup per day.
Nitrates found in soil, fertilizer, and well water are naturally present in vegetables and can be harmful to babies. Nitrate levels are highest in spinach, carrots, squash, beets, and green beans. Even at 6 months, when babies can digest nitrates safely, it's important to avoid giving them too much at once. If you choose to make homemade baby food with these vegetables, make sure to freeze the extras right away. Or consider buying commercial baby food if you want to introduce those specific veggies. If your baby takes medicine that decreases stomach acid, be sure to consult your pediatrician before introducing high-nitrate vegetables.
Veggies high in sulfer, such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and beans, may give Baby a tummy ache because they can produce excess gas. If this becomes a problem, you can wait to introduce these foods until Baby is older, or mix the vegetable with another vegetable, such as a potato, to decrease its potency.
Yes, your baby will probably make a nose-wrinkling, brow-furrowing, mom-why-are-you-making-me-try-this face the first time you serve her something unfamiliar -- but that doesn't mean she won't eat it. "That displeased look is a knee-jerk reaction," says Dr. Mennella. "We found that babies continued to accept spoonfuls of veggies even after making those faces."
When Baby does make a yucky face at her first bite of spinach, don't make one with her. Instead smile and say "Yummy!" to encourage her to eat it. Keep your poker face to make trying veggies a positive experience. By her fourth exposure, Baby may even want seconds!
To make veggies even more palatable, try serving them with sweeter-tasting fruit. Your baby may like green beans more when he is fed peaches shortly after green vegetables. "Babies learn to associate the sweet flavors from fruit with veggies, which may encourage them to eat more over time," says Dr. Mennella.
"Babies are born with a natural dislike of bitter-tasting foods, which most green vegetables are. They're an acquired taste -- and your baby will learn to like them the more he eats them."
"Regardless of whether the baby is breastfed, once a baby is exposed to the food about eight or nine times, he will become more accustomed to and accepting of the taste," says Dr. Mennella. Breastfed and formula-fed babies tried green beans daily for more than a week during Dr. Mennella's studies -- and both groups ate nearly three times as many veggies by the end of that time period as they did at the start.
Though you should aim for three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruits a day, most adults fall way short of these recommendations. The best way to get all that in? Eat some with every meal or snack. For example: A glass of orange juice with a cup of berries in breakfast cereal, baby carrots as a midmorning snack, an apple or banana with peanut butter in the afternoon, and a large salad with dinner every night is about what you need to stay healthy -- and set a good example for your little one.