How can we encourage our children to have a good relationship with food?
I don’t know if you are one of those parents who feel secretly smug that your 6-month-old seems to be eating everything you put in front of them with no complaints? I know I was when I started weaning my children and they took to it like duck to water. They had a really healthy, balanced diet and seemed to like everything! Mealtimes for us were a dream – until they hit the terrible twos! And then, almost overnight, they decided that everything that was put in front of them was “yucky” or that it needed to be flung across the table in a rage! When the avocado they used to love is now so “disgusting” that it deserved tears and tantrums when it went anywhere near their plate.
Did you know that it is thought that around 40-50% of children will go through a “fussy eaters” stage and this is quite common around 18 months to 2 years.
The best way of ensuring that this fussy eater stage is over very quickly is to make sure that when you are weaning, you expose your baby to as many tastes, textures and variety of foods whenever possible. Did you know that babies at 6 months have around 10,000 taste buds? This is a lot! And so, we need to ensure our babies are getting a varied diet where they are exposed to as many flavours as possible. Avoid bland foods such as baby rice and add herbs and spices to foods you cook. Ensuring they have this exposure when weaning can really help reduce the fussy eater stage.
Also, from weaning, allow your baby to decide how much they want to eat. This encourages regulation of their own appetite and means they are more likely to eat enough food for their own needs. Remember that the amount they eat will change daily and at every mealtime – just like it does for us!
The other important thing to understand is that we need to make sure we are aware of the interaction happening at mealtimes. If we for example are refusing the eat certain foods and being vocal about it, how on earth can we encourage our child to try that food. By eating meals at separate times to our child and not at the table together, how can we create a supportive and positive mealtime environment? How can we teach them about eating well if they can’t actually see us eating the foods and encouraging them to imitate us?
If we are giving our child a tablet or the TV to watch during mealtimes, how are they understanding about the food in front of them? They are not aware of the food; they are not engaging with anything other than the screen.
If we give our child an ice-cream as a reward for eating the “disgusting broccoli”, what does that child learn about the broccoli? Will they ever learn to like the taste if they have to shove it down to get their prize?
If we yell at them, we can actually turn off their appetite and we will begin teaching them that eating is unpleasant.
And so, if you are worried about this happening when your baby gets older, you are not alone! It is a normal part of their development and we need to think of how we make mealtimes a positive experience. We need to create a relaxed environment around the table as a family. We need to use positive words when we eat. We need to show our children the love that eating can bring. We need to not raise our voices if they refuse to eat. We need to ignore tantrums or plate throwing. We need to understand that we are teachers in this respect. We need to teach our children how to eat. We need to be the best role models we can be. We will still be able to nurture our little ones by the language we use, by being loving and relaxed and giving them all the positive feedback possible when eventually that “disgusting” broccoli goes in, stays in and is eaten all up!
If you have serious concerns around your child’s eating habits it is vital that you speak to your GP in the first instance so they can rule out any other problems which may be contributing to you having a baby who is finding mealtimes hard work. For more support, find a local registered Nutritionist or Dietician in your area. You can do this by searching: Association for Nutrition, BANT, or BDA.
By Nicola, Happy Tums
Happy Tums run Weaning and Fussy Eaters workshops locally as face to face sessions or online via Zoom. All details can be found here.