Weaning: How to avoid a picky eater

When a child reaches the age of 4 months, new parents are thrown one of the most important tasks of the early child-raising years: transitioning their baby onto solid foods. Without guidance, it can be challenging to know where to begin and what advice to follow.

Kath Megaw and Meg Faure, authors of Weaning Sense₁ say that feeding your child is an activity-packed with emotions and that it’s about nurturing, loving and being a responsible parent. “Most parents find the prospect of starting their child on solids a daunting thought because aside from the long-term implications, there is a lot of conflicting information.”

Faure and Megaw say that a change in mealtimes and feeding, brought about by a busier, modern world has led to a rise in children that can be described as ‘picky eaters’. “Picky eating has been put down to the dramatic rise in food allergies and intolerances as well as the sensory challenge of exploring new foods.

“Like many behaviours of early childhood, a baby’s sensory system affects weaning. The way a baby perceives sensation through the eight senses has a strong influence on his or her feeding behaviour.”  This sensory processing and its impact on weaning led the authors to define four sensory personalities to help guide parents through the weaning process. The personalities according to Weaning Sense are as follows:

Social butterfly

These babies have an awareness that there is more sensory input and excitement in the world than they are getting information on. In an attempt to interact more with the world, they seek very high levels of sensory input and are generally very gregarious babies. “Each new bowl and plate of food brings endless exotic possibilities for the social butterfly,” says Faure. “Your social butterfly will do well if you add in new foods at quite a rapid rate.”

Slow to warm up

These babies feel sensation, changes of temperature, notice sounds and all sorts of sensory input in very high volumes making them feel overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. The slow to warm up baby avoids sensory information to manage her state of wellbeing better and remain calmer. “Novel experiences of flavour and texture can create issues for these babies, and one negative experience with a certain food can lead to a fussy eater.”

Sensitive

Like the slow to warm up baby, the sensitive baby is way more sensitive to sensory input than all other babies. Her brain seems to notice all sensory input meaning that the world feels too busy and overwhelming. “In a state of sensory overload the sensitive baby becomes irritable and fractious,” says Faure. The sensitive baby can be a tricky eater that is sensitive to tastes, textures and other sensory input. They are likely to be resistant to solids and rely on their intake of milk.

Settled

These babies are the opposite of sensitive babies and are usually so laid back that almost anything can happen in their world and they would not respond negatively. The settled baby is a calm baby who sleeps very well, eats well and is generally happy to play on their own. The settled baby will embark on the weaning journey happily.

Faure and Megaw say that each sensory personality calls for a different approach to weaning whether that be an adventurous, fast-paced journey through many different tastes and textures, or a slower introduction to solid food using soft food and baby-led weaning-inspired options.

In the development of their new range of baby food, local food brand UCOOK took guidance on these sensory personalities in the development of the products. UCOOK CEO David Torr says that the brand grouped certain flavours and textures together based not only on a particular baby’s weaning stage, but also on their sensory capability. He references the ‘Taking it easy bundle’ that boasts simple, gentle flavours for the slow to warm up baby in the early stages of the weaning process. “Understanding the needs of our core customer was critical in the development of the food and the way in which we ‘bundled’ the products for ease of convenience.”

Faure and Megaw say that it’s interesting as a parent to understand your own sensory personality and how that impacts mealtimes. “The fact that you can’t handle the way your baby messes at mealtimes may be caught up in your need for order as a slow to warm up mom,” says the pair. “Being aware of your responses alongside your baby’s sensory personality is a vital step in the weaning journey.”