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How nice would it be if your four-year-old wanted in on that big batch of Sunday night Cheater’s Skillet Paella? No second dinner has a beautiful ring to it. We chatted with childhood nutrition educator and chef David Siegel for tips and tricks to raising kids with big palates.

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Try Not to Stress About the Mess

It’s not exactly relaxing when your infant smears sweet potatoes all over her hair and your gorgeous marble table. But touching and literally making a huge mess with food is actually an important way that kids learn to explore their senses and accept new foods. Make cleanup part of the routine and put a tarp down if that’s what it takes.

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Introduce Textures Early

Here’s the great news: You don’t need to go mad making tons of fruit and veggie purees. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can introduce solid foods—including whole textured ones—as early as about six months. Try chopped fruits, well-cooked veggies and even scrambled eggs. (A new study in Pediatrics found that feeding eggs to children as young as six month helps them grow and doesn’t seem to increase their risk of egg allergies.) The goal? To get them used to as many different textures as possible.

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Aim For a Variety of Flavors

Baby boy might just gobble up those carrots and peas—amazing—but you’ll want to explore unchartered territory too. In fact, it’s important you introduce him to as many different flavors as possible, ranging from pungent garlic to bitter greens to sour lemon juice. Think of it like building a flavor vocabulary.

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Season Baby Food

It’s a myth that baby food needs to be bland and boring. Take a look at other countries: In India, babies eat spiced lentils at six months, and in Japan they’re spooning up dried fish oatmeal. Season (in moderation) with salt, pepper, spices and herbs from around the world.

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Don’t Project “Dislike”

When you feed your baby broccoli for the first time, it’s easy read her nose scrunch as “dislike.” But this early on, “like” and “dislike” are totally foreign concepts. It’s human nature to be suspicious of new things. Your babe is working hard to process new flavors and sensations. The second, third or, heck, even 15th time you feed it to her, she’ll probably come around. If nothing else, you’re getting her in the habit of trying foods.

Never Pressure Your Child To Eat

After your kid turns one, it’s your responsibility to structure meals with nutritious food and your child’s to decide how much they want to eat. Telling your kid to “finish everything on the plate” prevents her from recognizing her own hunger cues. 

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