Feb 27, 2010

Positive food education for toddlers

My first and foremost crucial advice for any baby is
to favour all natural foods from the very start.

Don’t force baby to finish his plate. I believe that
until a child is in age to decide how much he wants on his plate, he should not
be forced to finish its content. We choose the amount, without any idea of how
much he wants. And the portions that we serve can be overwhelming.

Let baby play with the food (within reason). It’s a time
for him to try to master the fork and spoon. Insisting to feed him every
mouthful might just make him extremely frustrated. He might be too focused on
the eating technique, and if that becomes a conflict, it might stop him from
eating all together. If he only eats one item from his plate it’s not the end
of the world, as long as you are providing him with a balanced meal every time,
it will even out in the end.

Try to make eating time stress-free (if not in the
mood find things to distract and make it easier to accept the food). I’ve used
different coloured spoons; alphabet letters; magazine cut-outs; empty cups;
bells; at different moments. But not systematically. If my son is eating
without any need for distraction, then that’s great!

Let baby spit out if doesn’t like the taste of
something. With a bit of luck he’ll spit it out in the plate! If it goes on the
floor, it’s not something your little one is doing on purpose. He’s too young
to know that it’s not the right place to get rid of it on. Just tell him you
don’t agree, tidy up, try to prevent when possible...

Don’t give judgements “it’s good for you, that’s not
good, ...” let him discover for himself. Tell him something tastes nice if you
are eating the same thing, or you’ve tasted and really like. Don’t pretend
something is good if you don’t actually like the taste of it.

Allow baby to develop a taste for the initial produce
by offering quality ingredients with little artificial flavouring or colouring,
like steamed vegetable with no or very little seasoning.

Don’t stress about baby’s appetite, unless they are
any serious health issues. Babies know what they need and how much of it.

Don’t fret if baby does not adhere completely with
your time schedule. He/she might be hungry outside of mealtimes, and not
necessarily at mealtimes. In that case and especially if you have other
children, you’ll need to reinforce the routine, but forcing him to eat just
because it’s mealtime will not help the whole issue. Keep healthy snacks at the
ready to complement “unsatisfactory mealtime results” and not have to feed your
little one unhealthy alternatives. A few slices of raw carrot eaten an hour
before the evening meal will not do much harm to your toddler’s health, and

Don’t force your baby to finish his/her food. Be
flexible, and try to interpret. My son has been using the “no” head shake for a
few months now, and often does when I ask him if he’s still hungry. I’ve
realised that it rarely means he’s not hungry anymore. Just a little patience
and inventivity, and he sometimes eats double the amount on top. On the other
hand, if he really doesn’t want to eat anymore, he’ll put his cutlery in his
plate and hand it to me. If I were to insist (which I did occasionally), he
will most likely end up throwing the whole thing overboard his high chair.

Don’t focuse on eating foods in the right order. I do
not systematically give my son a dessert. Maybe once out of three meals. But on
occasions if he has no more interest in his main course and wants his dessert
first, I’ll let him. He usually goes back to his savoury course afterwards.

When we are in tune with our bodies, we have a fairly
good idea of what we need to eat. Babies are in tune, until the education that
they receive modifies their perception. Trust your baby and forget your own
body image issues. Don’t project your own weight issues unto a young being who
is still able to “hear” his needs.

Our son loves fruit. He favours them over (my
homemade) biscuits, and has had very little sugar or processed foods until now.
When I’ve purchased commercial biscuits I’ve always bought organic/low
sugar/low salt/ natural flavours... At lunchtime today, I was at a local
farmers market with my husband, toddler, and dog. I admit we were a bit late
for our son’s lunch, and he was starting to show he was hungry. When we’d finished
shopping he realised we’d bought bananas and made us understand he wanted some
(he doesn’t speak much yet). He’s only recently started eating them by holding
them with the skin. I gave him one which he thoroughly enjoyed. Having bumped
into someone we were lingering a bit and having coffee. He asked for a second.
I gave it to him half-peeled, then gave him my coffee spoon to try to eat the
rest of the banana with the spoon. Within 15 minutes, he was finally settled in
front of a plate of lunch, had a dessert, and all was well. But if I hadn’t
given him the bananas, he’d have been really starving and upset. What’s the
point in that?

Our son has eaten pretty much everything we’ve
prepared for him, however bland it may sound to adults. I remember feeding him
steamed cabbage -no sauce-  and a few
slices of pork, with a tiny tinge of feeling sorry for him. I was reassured in
no time as he ate it up without seeming perturbed in the slightest way. Why
would he be? Cabbage has flavour. Pork too. Why systematically add more?

Dessert for our little one is very simple: yogurt with
a tiny bit of sugar, jam, or honey, or just plain occasionally; chopped up
fruit;  fruit compote with as little
sugar as possible (home made or commercially bought organic with no sugar);
rice pudding now and again.

As a conclusion, I will just say try not to make an
issue of meals. You are at a time when you can teach your baby or toddler to
enjoy his food, and prepare his sense of eating for the future. Make meal times
a nice, relaxed, chill-out time. Don’t put objectives, or use threats or punishments.
Allow your child to have his own autonomy in terms of what he will eat or not,
proportions, and quantity. And be flexible. If he doesn’t want to eat carrots
one day, it doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like them. I’m often baffled
when I hear a parent saying that a child doesn’t like one or another veg. It
might be so at home, but given the choice and freedom to taste it elsewhere, it
might turn out that it’s not a real dislike. Give your kids the chance to taste
things without tainting them with your own perception!

Now and again, don’t forget to try to remember what it
was like for you being little, and how you would have liked a little more
comprehension on one point or another. Meals and bedtimes are issues which
parents can take extremely seriously, and turn into real traumas for their
children. Sometimes it’s good to try to put oneself in one’s child’s shoes and
forget about plain discipline, to replace it with a little comforting.

PS: my son is 19 months old.

1 comment:

  1. This is all really valuable information and very, very true! My little one enjoys all sorts of food and I think it is due to the fact that I never made mealtime stressful, didn't worry too much about messes and him playing with his food and encouraging him to eat on his own at an early age. Thanks for this post! xo m.



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