It's likely that you've heard this advice before: when introducing new foods to your baby, give them one at a time and wait 3-5 days before giving a new one. This now outdated advice stemmed from the belief that introducing foods in this way would help parents identify any potential allergens. However, the science behind allergens has, of course, continued to advance and new data suggest that the advice to wait for days in between the introduction of new foods is out of sync with the latest approaches to food allergy introduction. In fact, the long waiting period might even be harmful.
The Latest in Allergy Science
Waiting too long to introduce new foods can be harmful? Yes! It turns out, that we now know there is a critical window for the introduction of potently allergenic foods, and extending the time over which those foods are introduced can actually result in an increased risk for developing an allergy to them. Stretching out the timeframe over which foods are introduced also limits food diversity.
"There is evidence that food diversity helps to decrease the development of allergic diseases in infants, and early peanut introduction is an important peanut allergy prevention strategy," said Dr. Waheeda Samady, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
In fact, pediatricians who are now suggesting that babies may be introduced to a variety of foods, all at once, even during the first days of introducing solid foods.
Other Benefits of Introducing Multiple Foods Early
Beyond allergen exposure, offering a wider variety of tastes early and often will prime your baby's tastebuds for experiencing a multitude of flavors. Offering a larger variety of foods sooner rather than later may also give baby the willingness and curiosity to try new foods when they are presented, because they will be in the habit of regularly seeing new foods on their plate. (Remember our favorite saying: practice makes progress!)
Equally important to new tastes is the frequent introduction of new textures to your baby's dining experience. Numerous studies have shown that the more variety of tastes, textures, colors, and mouth feels a baby is exposed to, the more likely those children are to accept new foods later on. Furthermore, research studies have shown that babies fed diets of bland, textureless foods are more likely to prefer these foods later on.
Does this mean that you need to plan an endless rotation of brand new foods served in ever increasingly complex presentations? NO! Of course not. ("Whew!" right?) What it does mean is that your baby's early tastes of solid foods can look a lot like your solid foods. I means that what you eat can, with a few small tweaks, be what they eat.
A Few of Our Favorite Tips
Does your baby or toddler already resist trying new foods? Don't worry. I can be frustrating, but it's also perfectly normal. Here are a few tried and true methods to help your little one practice tasting:
- Use a plate specially designed to encourage tasting, like the Nudge Toddler Plate. This plate has a space designated especially for new foods. The nudge, as it's called, is a reminder to you to put something new and it's known as a safe space for your toddler to explore unfamiliar foods.
- Start small by offering only little tastes of a new food and make it clear to older toddlers that she isn't expected to actually eat it. The new food is there for exploring - with all her senses!
- Try offering new foods outside of mealtime, when your baby or toddler are less likely to be really hungry. Since kids are often hungriest at mealtime they are less likely to want to "risk" tasting something unfamiliar. Offering new foods outside breakfast, lunch, or dinner helps to take the pressure off eating something unknown.
- Use herbs and spices, which can instantly add new flavor to a familiar food, rather than practicing with an entirely new food.
Make sure that any new food is offered in small amounts, like the few peas shown here in the Raspberry Nudge Baby & Toddler Bowl.