Did you know that you’ll prepare about 28,000 meals for your child over their childhood?!? Ahhhh!
As you know, I’m a mum as well as a dietitian, so I’m well aware that the reality of family mealtimes is not always picture-perfect. As you can see from the photo below, they’re messy (honestly I do brush Alice’s hair, and they don’t eat all their meals in their vests!), rarely 100% whinge-free and frankly not always enjoyable.
What I want to share today is how you leverage these 28,000 meals to create the positive eating experiences your child needs to grow into a competent and adventurous eater.
My 5 TOP TIPS for raising happy, healthy eaters
STEP 1: Get off to a Solid Start
Weaning advice comes at you thick and fast as a new parent but often misses the point. Spoiler Alert! It’s not about getting food in at any cost, fancy equipment or trendy superfoods! What’s important is that your baby learns to like your family food (provided that it’s suitably modified). There’s little point in your baby learning to love ‘sweet potato, apple and blueberry’ unless you think this is a dish you’ll be serving them as an older child!
You’ll find more information on starting weaning here. I also offer virtual weaning consultations and Baby Weaning Classes so you can get off to a Solid Start.
STEP 2: Stay in your lane
Believe it or not, it’s not your job to make sure that the food from your toddler’s plate makes it to their tummy, although of course, you can help them with feeding if they want and need it. Neither is it your toddler’s job to decide what you should serve them at snack time! The Division of Responsibility in Feeding sets out what your roles are when it comes to feeding and what your child’s are with regards to eating.
“When parents do their jobs with feeding, kids do their job with eating!”- Ellyn Satter
STEP 3: Say no to pressure
Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a moment. How would this type of mealtime ‘coaching’ make you feel? Research shows us that pressure is counterproductive when it comes to feeding. Depending on your child it can result in a complete meltdown at mealtimes, refusal to come to the table or at best a reluctant bite of peas. But, ultimately pressuring your child to eat peas, won’t help them learn to like them. Pressure comes in many forms with some more subtle than others.
This FREE printable illustrates how pressure can manifest at mealtimes. Read it you might be surprised!
STEP 4: Recognise what’s normal
Did you know that your baby triples their birth weight by the end of the first year, but it takes another full year for them to quadruple it? This slow down in growth has a knock-on effect on appetite and combined with other toddler developmental characteristics often creates a more challenging feeding relationship. It’s not realistic to expect your toddler to eat the same amount from meal to meal or from day to day or even from year to year.
STEP 5: Don’t give up!
Just like learning to walk and talk, it takes children many years to become fully competent eaters. I know it’s hard and at times downright frustrating but please stick with it. If you create a positive environment for eating, the rest will come. Make sure to offer new food continually and ‘not yet liked’ foods to your toddler; you never know when they might be ready to try some. You can’t underestimate the power of repeated exposure; it’s working even if you think it’s not!