It’s over an hour so you should find a lot of answers to your questions.
Dinner time is no easy feat for families with children. It starts the day they’re born when they sleep all day and then become colicky when it’s time for the parents to eat dinner. Then comes toddlerhood when they do everything with the food but eat it. Food is on the floor, the ceiling, in their hair and every crevice that’s impossible to clean but not in their mouths. Preschoolers aren’t much better; this is when they decide to assert their independence by saying, “I don’t like it.”
It’s no wonder parents wave the white flag and become short order cooks by making separate meals each night. One meal that ensures Child #1 will eat and another meal that Child #2 will eat, plus one for the parents. It feels like it takes three meals in one night for it to feel like a successful dinner.
Successful family dinners are not meant to please everyone. The reality is to plan and cook one well-balanced meal, regardless of your families response (rejection). Here’s how:
- Be authoritative and set the menu, allowing input from family members.
- Family-style meals, keeping it simple.
- Stick to the meal time structure, if the kids choose to pass on dinner remind them it is their choice not to eat.
- If your child chooses something else, have them make it themselves. Remember, being authoritative means you provide the what (nutritious foods), they choose the how much and whether not.
The more you accommodate personal preferences, the more unsuccessful mealtime becomes. The variety of meals shrinks and parents quickly fall into a rut. Parents who cater to each family member inadvertently create a meal time dichotomy of we eat this, and the kids eat that. If you’re finding yourself in this stressful situation then I highly recommend the following resource:
Fearless Feeding is a book about childhood nutrition that will calm and empower parents, provide step-by-step feeding guidance at every child development stage and teach parents the skills they need to get healthy meals on the table fast.
Go Strong Mamas!
BONUS: We love Gordon Ramsey’s YouTube channel, he’s generous with tips and advice as well as incredible recipes. Here’s a recent one where he shares some delicious lunch recipes for kids.
Getting kids to try new foods is no simple feat. From neophobia (fear of new foods) to erratic appetites and asserting their independence, kids will find a reason to say, NO. Trying to change the routine of hearing your child say, “No, I don’t like that” or “I’m scared of green beans” entails introducing an improved replacement routine.
The practice of food exploration, without the expectation of actually eating, provides your child the opportunity to create neural pathways required to accept new varieties of food. In other words playing with food is learning how to eat.
Afraid of wasting food? If you’re afraid of wasting food, then your demands are too high and you run the risk of overwhelming your child. Food exploration should involve a single food item or a minimal amount. Food exploration for younger babies and toddlers is known as developmental food play but as kids grow, food exploration needs to become more sophisticated. Here is an example of a food exploration routine we play on a weekly basis in our house. It keeps the neural pathways pruned for developing palates, as well as our own.
We call it the MYSTERY FOOD GAME.
1. To play the Mystery Food Game, go to a market with an extensive produce section.
2. Have your kids pick a food they are unable to identify from the peripheral of the grocery store.
3. If your children are new to this game, establish that there is no expectation to eat it.
4. Take it home and google the food. Watch an intriguing video (thanks to youtube), and learn about the food.
5. Have your kids interact with the food by cutting, peeling, or opening. Whatever interaction opportunity the food presents on its own.
The “Mystery Food Game” plays many roles in fostering a positive relationship with food for your kids. First, it empowers them to make the choice and be in control. They love and need both of those things when it comes to trying new food.
Kids learn to shop the peripheral where all the nutrient dense foods live. In turn, kids receive more nutrition! Kids who don’t feel the pressure to eat are more relaxed, feel safer and are more willing to eat. Given time and repeated exposure kids learn how to eat through their senses.
Learning to eat becomes a positive experience. When the expectations are lifted the stress goes with it. When kids feel relaxed, appetite increases. When kids feel stressed, appetite decreases. Learning about new food prepares them. Kids who interact with their food learn how to accept the new food through their senses. Hence, developing their neural pathways to accept a variety of flavors!
If you’re reading this and thinking, my kid won’t get past step 2 of this game. You may want to check out TINY TASTES developed by Dr. Lucy Cook in the link below. TINY TASTES involves giving children a taste of a very small amount of a new or disliked food every day for up to 15 days in exchange for a sticker reward.
Dr. Lucy Cook is a Chartered Psychologist and Child Feeding Specialist, her research focus has been on children’s eating behavior. Her principal area of interest is the development and modification of children’s eating habits with a particular focus on developing interventions to help parents of children with eating and feeding difficulties.
Book Review, The Dot by Peter Reynolds: I wanted to share this book review with parents who are faced with the concern they feel when their child tells them, “I can’t.” We want to be encouraging without being too overbearing. It get’s trickier as they get older and more sophisticated in their “mind-reading” skills. They seem to know when we’re concerned and in turn become increasingly adverse to our guidance. It’s a finicky line to walk, and I am grateful to have found this gem from the local library. It’s called, The Dot by Peter H.Reynolds.
Reynolds tells the tale of a little girl who adamantly claims that she can’t draw. It’s a clean and simple tale with a big message. That one little dot marks the beginning if a little girl’s journey of surprise and self-discovery. This book is inspiring to kids and should give young audiences a boost of confidence. It was comforting to see my “I can’t” child intrinsically is drawn to the dot.
As a parent the recognition of the life-changing influence books can have for a child is validated by a phenomenal read from brainpickings.org. Maria Popova shares the wisdom of Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience. Popova also shares Gaiman’s piece titled “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming.” I couldn’t agree more and have been most grateful for the local librarians and their relationships with my children.
So if you have a child who is struggling with something, a message from a book can help open the doors of opportunity. Regardless of whether your child can read or not, reading to your child is just as important. Deliver the messages and support your local library by granting your child with regular attendance and fostering their relationship with the librarians. I’ll leave you with a quote from Gaiman,
“We all-adults and children, writers and readers- have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual if less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”
There are things that I know due to my training I take for granted. Things lead me to have in-depth discussions with my boy’s pediatrician. There is a reason why the kids of my Physical Therapist friend can ride their bikes without training wheels at 3 years old (not my kids) and a reason why my own kids of a Speech/Feeding Therapist are perfect speakers and wonderfully adventurous eaters. Therapists who specialize in pediatrics have a leg up when it comes to parenting in terms of their specialization. In our case it is knowing the Basic Steps to Feeding Infants & Toddlers.
Without my training, feeding my babies would have felt like being in left field.
This realization happens through mere observations of parents who are struggling when it comes to basics such as introducing solids, child nutrition, developmental food play (DFP), developmental oral motor skills, and the relationship with food.
If you are struggling with feeding your baby, you are not alone and may find yourselves doing the following:
- Feeling you’re not getting enough nutrition into your new feeder so you may be over spoon feeding your baby a puree or soft mechanical food you feel is nutritional for your child.
- Keeping the highchair, child and tray clean (usually by spoon feeding and wiping) before they are finished.
- Giving your baby something different from what you’re eating and at different times.
- Mistaking Developmental Food Play (DFP) as negative behaviors and complaining when they throw food on the floor and/or make a mess.
- Introducing solids too late 12-15 months.
The FIRST misconception
I would like to provide some resources on both nutrition and PORTION size individualized for each little one. Parents simply need to constantly remind themselves that little ones have little bellies and the rule of thumb for portion size is the size of their teeny tiny fists. Take a good look because that is literally 1 chicken nugget for some two-year-olds. I know my boys could eat more at that age especially during a growth spurt but during the times that they only ate their expected portion size, I knew not to worry. I’ve included a link to Dr.Berry Brazelton on the subject of examining our expectations and dealing with our anxieties when it comes to feeding our babies.
The other resource falls into the public announcement category. The Basics of Nutrition and anyone who is thinking of buying baby food would greatly benefit from the following course available for FREE online: Introduction to Food and Health via Stanford University. You can access this course as well as Child Nutrition and Cooking via coursera.com I highly recommend these courses presented by Maya Adams M.D., check out her talk as a quick introduction. She has invaluable insight and knowledge on nutrition and cooking for your family. She also enlightens us with how simple it is.
The SECOND that leads to the THIRD misconception
The second and third traps parents may fall into is led by the high chair. High chairs can be a great thing for getting really messy and positioning, depending on the chair and how it is used. If you’re not letting your baby get messy in a high chair then you’re missing the perks of having a high chair. Check out this article regarding messiness and avenues to learning. In addition to learning, developmental food play skills are critical in learning how to eat, such as crawling is to walking and talking. In other words if you’re going to invest in a high chair, use it for all the opportunities that come tagging along with allowing your child to get messy. Proper positioning can be achieved by boosters or hook-on seats once the baby can sit upright independently. This enables the baby to be directly at the table, getting all the sensory information from the food they need to advance to eating it. The BIGGEST road block posed by the high chair is it separates the baby from the table where everyone is eating, creating a psychological dichotomy of feeding and halting their budding, impressionable relationship with food. In a high chair, the baby learns they are not an equal when it comes to eating with their parents. This often leads to eating different foods and at different times. Easy for a brief moment of time and detrimental as they quickly advance in other areas BUT feeding.
The FOURTH misconception
Developmental Food Play (DFP) is a series of feeding, fine motor, and self-help milestones that every baby exhibits. Here is a quick reference for the stages and why they are important.
Stage 1 (6-18 months) Smooshing, smearing, spitting and wearing. Babies are exhibiting these developmental food play skills to learn and accept new textures first with their hands and bodies, and then in their mouths. See how that works! Spitting is learning how to manipulate and manage the foods safely in their mouths, it’s a defense mechanism and you want to see it. Oral manipulation and management of food takes both time and practice and is not easily achieved without being messy.
Stage 2 (12-20 months) Throwing, crumbling, tearing, wearing. Babies are learning and achieving fine motor skills such as pincer grasp, pointing, holding, removing and bringing hands to midline(middle of the body). Does any of this sound neat and tidy?
Stage 3 (2-3 years) Pouring. A simple activity but a multitude of mad developmental skills. Here is why. Children are doing more than making a mess in the moment: they are forever changing their attentional biases and learning new concepts associated with language and learning.
Stage 4 (3-4 years) Cutting and manipulating. At this point your “baby” needs to do more than just eat in order to be an active participant in feeding themselves. This is where parents need to keep up with maintaining their child’s relationship with food. Allowing your child to cut (supervised) and manipulate via recipes and experiments gives them the confidence and skills to eat a variety of foods.
The FIFTH misconception
Most parents are shaking in their boots when you tell them to introduce solids at 8 months. Even as a well-trained oral motor expert, I found this book to be very helpful and reassuring, Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. My boys were introduced to solids once they were sitting upright independently at around 7 months. They were still nursed regularly and the introduction to solids was closely monitored with big pieces of whatever they were showing interest in. I knew that babies do not develop the ability to transfer food back for a swallow until around 8 months, so basically, everything was pushed straight out of their mouth by their tongue. Plus, they were still suckling everything. I was surprised when one of my boys actually decided to take a bite out of a piece of naan pita bread one day. No teeth, just gums and they worked. Thankfully, he eventually pushed it forward but he definitely learned some new oral motor patterns from the piece he bit off and the crumbs he had achieved to keep in his mouth.
If you’re still unsure about introducing solids at this age them you can give them a chewy tube that will strengthen their jaw, desensitize their gag reflex and coordinate their tongue muscles (all things a big raw carrot can do) but if you want/need nonfood or want something in addition; you can find them through this link, Ark’s baby grabber.
Introducing solids at an early age is just for exploration and fun. Babies get to advance their oral motor development and adapt to new textures at the same time without the expectation to eat it. Even with my expertise, I still watched them like a hawk just waiting for them to choke. I kept reminding myself that coughing and gagging are defense mechanisms and not choking. It was not often that they coughed or gagged but the one time my one boy did start coughing on something, I panicked and was going in for the finger swipe. Lucky for me and especially for him I was not quick enough and he was able to work it out for himself, avoiding a negative feeding experience and gaining more confidence in his skills. PHEW!
Unfortunately, most parents don’t introduce solids until it’s far too late and the expectation for them to eat is looming. The problem is the babies are not developing the oral motor patterns to confidently handle solids and/or varied textures. Add the expectation to eat it, rather than have fun and explore and learn than you’re going to run into some resistance. Sitting in a high chair away from the table where the good stuff is and what else can you expect a 12-15-month-old to do but throw it on the floor. Frustrating for the parents and the new feeder. Follow the advice and resources shared and you can avoid the frustrations, endure the messiness and you will reap the rewards of seeing your child enjoy and accept a variety of healthy, nutritional food for a lifetime.