So you have mastered infant feeding and your sweet baby is a pro at sitting there and having food spooned into their mouth. What’s next? If your baby is approaching 1 year, they are likely showing signs of wanting to feed themselves. This is not only a great time to teach them how to feed themselves, but also an important time in laying groundwork for a healthy diet and eating habits. Below are 5 tips for helping your toddler develop those healthy eating habits.
1. Tools – Be prepared for your feeding adventure with the right tools. Below are some of my essentials and ones I have used for all 3 kids.
Bib – You are thinking, duh, bib. Why is this one so special? You may be surprised to hear that toddlers are even messier eaters than babies. This bib is great because it is over sized and covers their shoulders. It is plastic and easy to wipe off or throw in the dishwasher after a meal (yes, I do this all the time!).
Cube Slicer – I love this slicer for easy chopping of foods. It cuts foods like sandwiches, fruit, and pancakes into perfect sizes. You can also use it to create cute food images too 🙂
Forks & Spoons – These rubber handles on these utensils are perfect for gripping. Odds are they are going to have more fun banging it on the table than actually using it to scoop food 🙂 But by exposing the utensils to them early you will see notable progress and likely success by the time they are two.
Cups – These cups are awesome for teaching your child to drink without a sippy cup. I don’t recommend starting these until closer to two…younger toddlers may not be coordinated enough to use these cups.
Placemat – This placemat has been a saving grace for us with number 3. She loves to whack her plate and/or food when she is finished with her meal. This placemat sticks in place AND has the plate built in. No more mashed potatoes on the wall!
Chair – I am a huge fan of the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair. This chair is great for transitioning baby to toddler and beyond. When our kids were babies and into early toddlerhood, we used the tray attachment. When they get to be a little older, it is nice to remove the tray and push them up to the table with the family. We recently did this for our 18 month old and she thinks she is pretty darn cool sitting with her family.
Snack Cups – I have tried LOTS of snack cups over the last 7 years. These cups do the best job of keeping food in the cup and allowing the child to pick out the food with minimal spill. These are essential when packing things like Puffs, Cheerios, and other small snack bites.
2. You control quality; they control quantity. This is something our pediatrician told us that has always resonated with me. I try to keep this in mind when they have times when they have more or less of an appetite than usual. During this point in their life, you have control over what they eat – make it quality. Do not concern yourself as much with how much they eat – they will help determine that. Avoid snacking an hour before meals to allow them to be hungry for a meal. Avoid allowing them to graze during the day on snack foods – it will make them less likely to want to eat their meals. Serve a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains – this will help expose your toddler to not only different flavors, but also different textures. Also, re-introduce foods that they may not have liked the first time you served. Avoid being a short order cook and offering many different options when they refuse what you initially serve them – although there are going to be times you want to just toss them a bag of Cheez-its. Stay strong!
3. Eat what you eat – This enforces the last point. They will see you eating your meal and start to learn early that what you make for dinner is what is served. While it can be hard with some meals and impossible with others, try to at least chop up a small portion of your meal or offer something similar. Our 18 month old is already noticing if I have something different on my plate…and you can bet my 4 and 6 year olds notice! And they ALWAYS want what is on mom’s plate – so make it the same! Exposing them to a variety of foods and expecting them to eat what you serve will help avoid picky eaters in the future. Again, serving a balanced meal will help them develop healthy eating habits early on.
4. Remain in chair – This rule is a big one for me. We expect our children to sit through a family meal – and we started enforcing it from early on. Getting out of your chair means you are finished with your meal. Our 18 month old will often want out of the chair and onto my lap and we are working hard right now to put her down when she wants out of her chair and now allow her to sit on my lap and eat. With the older children, they now understand that they cannot get down and run around and come back for more food. Set the expectation that children must ask to be excused once finished. It may seem silly, but ask your toddler if they are ready to be excused before getting them out of their chair. You will be surprised to see how exposing them to this concept early on will make it easier in the future to continue to promote.
5. Family dinner time – Promote a family meal time where you all sit down together to eat. Try to do this for at least one meal per day – this obviously gets harder the older your kids get and the more commitments you have. Make an effort to all sit down to eat together when you are all home together. Avoid feeding your toddler before you and then eating a separate meal later. Eating dinner with them serves several purposes. It is a family time together where you are able to talk about your day – even if your child is not old enough to contribute to the conversation, they observe you conversing. It is also a way for them to observe what and how you are eating. The TV should be turned off and phones put away during this time. You are showing them that this time together is a priority. And while they do not necessarily understand this concept as a toddler, they will grow up with the routine of family meal time. Do not start out bad habits now (watching TV, separate meals, etc) that you will have to break later on. As your toddler gets older, use this time to talk about their day or review their school or art work from the day. Each of our children (even our 18 month old) has a turn to “have the floor” where they are able to talk about their day. Our 18 month old uses this time to show off some of her favorite words (baby, puppy, and no-no) and LOVES being the center of attention 😉
Meal time is a great for families to connect and come together. Promoting these tips at an early age will help ensure your meal time is a fun and happy time!