One of the most important things you can teach a child is to have a healthy and positive relationship with and about food. Allowing children to make choices and feel as though they are in control of their little world will lead to healthy feelings about food.
There are often concerns about what and how children are eating. Are they getting the nutrition they need? Are they eating enough? They only eat certain foods, they don’t like vegetables and eat with their fingers.
Well, what is normal? Changing behaviors at different times in a child’s development is normal.
By one year old, a child’s growth begins to slow down and children are eating regular table foods with the family. Choking is the biggest issue as a child explores chewing and swallowing. Any food that is hard, round, and difficult to chew should be avoided. Children should always be sitting in one place, preferably the table, and monitored while eating.
Just like any other social skill, children are not born knowing what is acceptable regarding manners and behavior at the table. Example is often the best teacher.
All meals and snacks should be eaten in a calm environment. Don’t expect a child to eat when irritable, tired or sleepy.
Plan a transition time between play and food whether it’s for dinner or a snack. This is a good time to read a story or sing a special song to set the mood.
Setting times for meals and snacks is helpful so that children know what to expect. Be flexible, their stomachs are small, they need to eat often. An over-hungry child is a set up for excessive eating when food is available.
Offer small portions. Large portions or plates that are too full, with too many things, can be overwhelming.
It is not uncommon for young children to touch their food, put in their mouths, chew it for awhile and then take it out and look at it. It’s an experiment.
Offer new foods one at a time and serve them with foods you know are usually well liked. It is good to have a child try a new food but it doesn’t mean they will like it. It may take 10 or 12 times for a child to like something or it’s possible they will never like it.
Never force children to eat a food they don’t want to or make them finish everything on their plate. No one should eat anything they do not like, including adults. There are so many choices available to us from all the food groups.
Try food in other forms or dishes. For example, plain beans as a side dish may not be a favorite but in a soup they take on a different texture and flavor. The nutrients are all still there.
Offer choices. As adults we accept the fact that we do not like all foods, children are no different. Let the child decide what they would like to eat between the healthy options you have provided.
As they age, encourage involvement in all aspects of meals from shopping to cooking to clean up. All age groups can do something to participate no matter how small.
If behavior erupts that you are not happy with, like throwing food, remove the child from the area or just remove the food and try again later. They need to know this is not appropriate and the end of eating time is likely enough to get the point across. Be careful that the child does not begin to use this as a way to communicate that they are finished eating.
When they play with their food, it is an obvious sign that they are full. Ask the question, “Are you all filled up?” or “Is your tummy full?” Help them to understand what this feeling is and respect their answer. Let them be finished. The next eating period will be at the scheduled time.