Frustrated because your baby refuses to eat solids? Discover simple hacks to introduce new food and get your little one excited to eat!
If there’s one task I loved most about parenthood, it was making baby food purées. I got excited about planning which healthy foods to offer and the different combinations I could make. And for the most part, all three of my kids took to eating pretty much everything I made.
But, of course, there are those days.
Those days when your baby refuses to eat anything—even his favorites. His gums might be tender from teething, or he’ll try a few bites but fusses within minutes. Other times, he refuses heartier meals and prefers food you’d prefer he not grow to rely on too much.
Those days when he screams the minute you put him in a high chair, clearly knowing what’s about to happen. Even once he’s in, he turns his head away and tries to climb out. Changing the type or consistency of the food doesn’t do much, either.
And if you’re like me, you might have even forced him to eat at mealtimes, afraid that he’s not getting enough nutrients.
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What to do when your baby refuses to eat
Yup, I know all about food refusal, my friend. It’s especially alarming when this comes as a surprise, making you worry that you’ve now got a “picky eater” on your hands. As a first-time mom, it’s also easy to panic that your little one isn’t getting enough food or gaining enough weight, or that you’re creating a bad habit.
And perhaps the worst feeling of all is the fear that you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s enough to plant seeds of doubt in even the most confident of moms.
If you can relate, let me reassure you of this one thing first: Everything will work out in the end. Sometimes we need to know that no matter how challenging your baby’s refusal can be, it won’t be like this forever.
Second, there is a way to help your baby eat solids, even if he refuses to at the moment. These were the exact tactics I used that helped me get over this challenging stage and steer my kids toward eating just about anything.
And finally, remember that solid food for a baby younger than a year old is only supplemental. At this point, breast milk or formula is still your baby’s main source of calories and nutrition. Think of solids as “just for fun” or introductory food for his little belly.
That said, take a look at these simple hacks when your baby refuses to eat. As one parent said after reading the article:
“This was the most comforting post I’ve ever encountered in my struggle to feed my baby… Thank you Nina, this was so soothing to read & made me take heart again.” -Christianna
1. Give enough time between meals
One of the most common reasons your baby refuses to eat might come down to simple timing. He might not be hungry for much food for, say, a sweet potato or rice, on top of the milk he’s already drinking.
If he continues to refuse to eat, try offering solids and table food less frequently in your feeding schedule, such as one less meal a day. You can also drop snacks to focus on the three main meals. That way, when you do offer solids, it can be a welcome surprise rather than yet another attempt to feed him.
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2. Start with the solids first
Do you typically offer your baby milk along with solids? Or do you offer milk first, followed by solids? He might already be satisfied enough with milk that he isn’t as willing to try solids, especially so soon after.
Instead, see what happens if you offer the solids before you breastfeed or give a bottle—he might take to them this way. With an emptier tummy, he might be more willing to try solids since he hasn’t had his milk yet.
3. Combine the solids with food your baby likes
One way to get your baby to eat more than one thing is to combine food. Let’s say he’ll only eat pureed apples and nothing else. See what happens if you combine it with mashed bananas. Once he takes to that, try mixing apples and peaches, and perhaps even apples and chicken.
You can also capitalize on his love for pureed apples by offering apples in different ways. You could steam and dice them into bite-sized pieces, or add less water for a chunkier puree. Later, you could even offer thin slices of apples he can grab and gnaw himself.
Or let’s say your baby refuses to eat any solids and is adamant about milk. Try blending baby oatmeal not with water, but with milk—whether breast milk or formula—so the taste still feels familiar.
The goal is to figure out which food he does like and work other foods and textures into it. This gives him exposure to different food that are similar to the ones he already likes.
4. Give your baby more autonomy
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Are you used to spoon-feeding your baby? What if you give him the choice of what and how to eat?
One simple way to do this is to offer finger foods on a tray that he can pick and feed himself. Steamed carrots, bits of bread, or diced bananas are a few examples perfect for self-feeding. This allows him not only to decide what to eat, but how much.
Or you can hand him a spoon of purees and encourage him to scoop the food into his mouth.
Utensils and plates like these work well for introducing independent use. Start by pre-scooping the food like cereals or mashed potatoes onto the spoon and let him bring it to his mouth. Later he can learn how to scoop the food himself.
You’re giving him the autonomy to decide what, how, and how much to eat—which could convince him to give solid food a chance.
5. Ditch the high chair
A common struggle with feeding babies is the high chair: they want nothing to do with it. So much so that your baby is already fussing before you’ve even buckled him in.
If you notice these behaviors, ditch the high chair. He probably feels constrained and uncomfortable, especially if he’s already high-spirited and energetic. The solid food may not even be the issue so much as the environment he’s eating in.
Instead of the high chair, try holding him on your lap as you feed him with your free arm. Partner up with another adult so one is holding him while the other is feeding. Sit him on a blanket placed on the floor, or you could try another “chair,” from a stroller to a swing to an infant seat.
Don’t make an issue of something that doesn’t have to be—in time, he’ll likely take to the high chair. For now, don’t let it be the deal breaker when your baby refuses to eat.
6. Offer cold food
Yet another common struggle with solid food is the inevitable teething that plagues many babies and toddlers. Chewing food can be too uncomfortable when their gums are tender.
One easy hack is to offer cold food. For instance, chill a banana and let your baby gnaw on it until it turns to mush. Yogurt and smoothies make for delicious and cold meals that are both soothing and don’t require much chewing. Offer a cold watermelon that chews easily and feels refreshing.
Cold solids could be the trick you need when your baby refuses to eat anything else.
7. Offer food from your plate
Perhaps the best “trick” of all is to not make a big deal when your baby refuses to eat. After all, solid food is practice at this point—it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t want to eat what you offer.
The best way to adopt this carefree attitude is to offer small portions of food from your plate when you’re eating. You might feel less stressed about preparing anything extra (that he might not eat anyway) when you’re simply giving him a few bites of your food during meal times.
Sure, you may not be able to offer everything on your plate. Instead, think of it as “courtesy feeding.” You’re sharing a few peas and pieces of cheese and introducing new food without the stress or pressure for him to accept your offer.
8. Check for constipation
I introduced cereal to my son, which seemed to change his digestion and bowel movements. Ever the first time mom, I panicked when he didn’t poop for several days and seemed extra fussy. This coming from a baby who pooped often.
Five signs can suggest your baby might be constipated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- More or fewer bowel movements than normal.
- The stool looks like pebbles or hard rocks.
- The stool has blood.
- Your baby is straining for 10 minutes or more without success.
- Your baby is extra fussy.
All babies are different, and babies differ from adults. For instance, it can be normal for babies to not poop for three days and not feel constipated. But if you see signs of occasional constipation, try these tips:
- Give your baby prune juice and water in a bottle. I mixed two ounces of prune juice in one ounce of water. Don’t use too much juice though because of the extra sugar.
- Offer fruits and vegetables. High-fiber foods like pears and broccoli can help with digestion and bowel movements.
- Do bicycle kicks. Help massage his belly by doing bicycle kicks. Gently move one of his bent knees toward his belly, then straighten and move the other bent knee.
- Place a warm towel on his tummy. This can help relax his muscles and loosen the stool. Make sure to test the temperature of the towel before placing it on his tummy.
The battle that ensues when your baby refuses to eat can be enough to make the experience miserable for both of you. Hopefully, by now you’ve seen that, at the end of the day, everything will work out. And that babies don’t function like robots—their appetites and interest ebb and flow just as ours do.
That said, you can still do plenty to help him take to eating solid food in a stress-free environment. Offer solid food with enough time between meals, and do so before handing him milk so he has enough of an appetite.
Combine food he already likes with new ones you want to introduce. When you do, give him more autonomy than you usually do so he feels more in control and interested in eating. Avoid common struggles like teething and high chairs by offering cold food and finding different ways to feed him.
And finally, make eating a positive experience by offering appropriate food from your plate—the less pressure, the better.
You can’t always control when or how much he eats, but you can take the pressure off and make eating a positive experience—for him and you.
Get more tips:
- Weighing the Real Pros and Cons of Baby Led Weaning
- 4 Effective Tricks to Handle a Baby Not Drinking Milk
- “At What Age…?” Baby Milestones You Don’t Always Hear About
- How to Make Baby Food at Home Easily and Conveniently
- 9 Things to Do If Your Baby Goes on a Bottle Strike
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