Did you know that you’ll prepare about 28,000 meals for your child over their childhood?!? No wonder you want to know how to make sure your little ones are happy eaters!
As a mum and a dietitian, 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.
But let’s see how to 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 (and healthy) eaters
STEP 1: Get off to a Solid Start
Weaning advice comes thick and fast as a new parent but often misses the point. The fact is that despite what you might think winning at weaning is not about ‘getting healthy food’ in at any cost. It’s also not about 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 not much 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!
FIND OUT MORE: Have you heard about vegetable-first weaning?
STEP 2: Stay in your lane
Believe it or not, regardless of your child’s age, it’s not your job to make sure that the food from their plate makes it to their tummy. Although of course, it’s fair to help them with feeding if they want and need it. Neither is it your child’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 regarding eating. It explains that you (the parent) are in charge of WHEN, WHERE AND WHAT food is served. And your child is in charge of HOW MUCH and WHETHER
“When parents do their jobs with feeding, kids do their job with eating!”- Ellyn Satter.
READ MORE: The Division of Responsibility in Feeding
STEP 3: Say no to pressure
Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a moment. How would you enjoy a meal with someone in your ear trying to persuade, cajole or bribe you to try a food you didn’t want to eat? Not good! And this is backed up by research that 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.
- Forcing- this includes ‘try it’ bites
- Rewarding-using sticker charts or rewarding with food
- Pleading-“I’d be so happy if you took one bite for me”
- Hard-selling-“This carrot will help you to see in the dark! Why don’t you try it?”
- Praise-this can be pressuring for some children
- Distraction-including screens and toys at the table
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 frustrating but stick with it. If you create a positive environment for eating, the rest will come. Make sure to offer new food continually and foods that they reject; 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!
My kids are a work in progress too!
If you’d like evidence-based strategies for creating a positive feeding environment check out my Feeding Your Toddler-8 steps to enjoyable and successful mealtimes.