A special family meal is the perfect time to share new foods and new flavors with your little one.
The Pump Station & Nurtury has supported new and expecting parents in the Greater Los Angeles area for more than 33 years with evidence-based breastfeeding, baby care, and parenting education. Through its array of prenatal and postnatal classes and services, Pump Station gives parents the tools they need to parent confidently.
At a traditional Thanksgiving gathering, we celebrate the abundance of the fall harvest with our families. Turkey with trimmings, maybe some ethnic foods, and even vegan options are all welcome this time of year. However, due to the pandemic, your usual family gatherings may be quite small, perhaps just you, your partner, and your baby—with friends and extended family joining remotely. Yet if this is your baby’s first Thanksgiving, this year’s holiday will still be quite special, a time of gratitude for the little person joining you at your table.
Cynthia Epps, MS, IBCLC, is an Infant Feeding Specialist who’s been working in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. Her practice covers many feeding issues for infants and toddlers, from newborn through two-and-a-half years old. Cynthia can be found at Pump Station in her monthly workshop “Real Food Baby” and on her own website.
As we begin Thanksgiving week, Cynthia is here to share tips for introducing new foods and new flavors to your baby. And if your baby is not quite ready to experiment with more flavorful foods this holiday season, Cynthia’s advice will be just as good at any time of the year.
If your child doesn’t have any food sensitivities, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently supports infants and toddlers in exploring a wide variety of foods. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to offer your little one tastes of family favorites, such as chopped green beans from the casserole, classic pan gravy drizzled over potato balls, smashed peas, soft powder biscuits, slivers of turkey, and—let’s not forget—tiny tastes of pumpkin pie or baked apples.
Babies 5 to 7 Months
For babies from 5 to 7 months who are approaching the transition to solids, you may cue them with each new taste—carrots, spinach, broccoli, or green beans—smashed between your fingers and tapped on your baby’s lower lip. This is the practice of “palate training,” or using the aroma of a new food, followed by a “tiny taste” on the lips, to introduce savory foods to your baby.
Babies generally lick and suck their lips to draw the flavors into their mouths, which may be followed by smiles, laughter, and cueing for “more.” Or you may find your little one making a serious face, perhaps with a furrowed brow or a frown. Such reactions to “big flavors” are inevitable and encouraged. For a baby who has tasted only “milk”—either breastmilk or formula—prior to this moment, surprised reactions are to be expected. Detach yourself from judgments and simply smile, put a tiny taste into your own mouth, and name the vegetable: “Broccoli! Big flavor!” Then offer another taste, of the same food or a different one, as you prefer.
Too often infants are fed before adults, tucked into their high chairs in the kitchen, rather than included at the family table. Sharing Thanksgiving with your baby gives him or her the experience of a variety of tastes and foods, shared with the joy of family. When bringing your infant to your Thanksgiving table, remember: Keep it simple. One food, one taste at a time, can engage your baby throughout your meal. Seating them in a feeding chair, rather than on your lap, will make it easy for you to manage yourself while sharing your family meal. Yet the simple joy of inclusion during this special meal can resonate with your baby’s eating habits into the future.
Babies Beyond 7 Months
For a baby beyond 7 months who’s already exploring self-feeding, you might offer “potato balls” to hold their interest during the meal. Crunchy on the outside, these balls crumble easily and are perfect for little hands. Bake a yam or yellow gold potato, scoop out the insides, mix with a touch of olive oil and gently sauteed wilted greens, such as kale, spinach, or chard, shape into “balls” approximately the size of golf balls, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 10–15 minutes, until toasted brown. Potato balls can be made in advance, then warmed in the oven before serving.
A similar favorite is “stuffing balls.” Save enough of your favorite stuffing to shape into small balls. Brown lightly in a skillet with olive oil or unsalted butter, transfer to a baking pan, and pour any skillet drippings over them. Cover and bake with the turkey for the last hour. While carving the turkey, turn off the oven and keep the stuffing balls warm. The aroma is very inviting and can entice the most reluctant toddler into trying these “new” treats with the family.
Seasonings may be used to prepare your Thanksgiving foods without worry. Young babies having “tiny tastes” and older toddlers self-feeding can enjoy all the family favorites. Many common seasonings, including garlic, onion, thyme, marjoram, and parsley, are safe for babies once they’re cooked with food. Aim to avoid offering highly salted or sweet foods, which can be too strong for your infant or toddler’s developing palate.
Dessert doesn’t need to be overly sweetened or too fancy, and you can complement your infant’s first Thanksgiving with a single comfort food. The simplicity of an apple, cored and steamed with two tablespoons of water on the stove or in your microwave, can bring a special aroma to your table. You may add a light seasoning—maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon—but remember, a plain, warm, mashed apple is full of flavor for your baby. And for you, too! The togetherness of sharing this tradition is not just about nourishing food, but also about nourishing the heart and soul of your family.
Remember, the aromas, flavors, and joy of this one meal can positively impact meals with your infant or toddler during the months ahead. So throughout the holidays and beyond, have fun exploring all the foods on your table with your little one. Enjoy!
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Find out more at: Real Food Baby Class
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