Good Eating Habits for Infants & Toddlers By Rosie @ Doddl
Personally, I find at mealtimes I have to finish whatever is on my plate, regardless of the portion size! This is because I was brought up being encouraged to finish all the food on my plate and wasn’t allowed to get down from the table or have pudding until I had eaten every mouthful. This is now a habit that I sub-consciously cannot break! I have predominately baby-led weaned (BLW) my daughter, who has just turned two. However, I often catch myself spooning in the last few mouthfuls or bribing her with pudding if she eats a few more mouthfuls of her main meal. I know that I shouldn’t be doing this, but as a parent, I can’t help worrying whether she has had enough to eat. I recently had an eye-opening conversation with Claire Burgess, who is a child development specialist and the Head of Research and Training at the Norland College. She was emphasizing the importance of infants and toddlers learning self-regulation in order to help combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. For infants the self-regulation cues are strong and they know when they are full. However, toddlers can start to over-ride these cues and they can easily over-eat, which is where portion control becomes important. The problem is that, like me, many parents worry about how much their little ones are eating and think that the best thing is to try to encourage them to eat a bit more through force-feeding, bribing and coaxing. But by doing this we are creating a bigger problem, because we are ignoring our children’s instinctive cues that they are full, which means that we are making it harder for them to self-regulate their eating patterns as they get older. In addition, force-feeding can create anxiety around food and mealtimes, which can result in children eating less and becoming fussy about food. Signs that a child has had enough to eat:
- They say ‘no’ or say they have ‘finished’
- They push their plate away
- Turn their head away when offered more food
- Keep their mouth closed when food is offered
- They hold food in their mouth and don’t chew / swallow it
- They repeatedly spit food out
- Cry and scream
- Gag or wretch
- 20 mins: Try to keep mealtimes to approx. 20 minutes. Most toddlers will eat all they want to eat in the first 20 minutes of a meal and this provides the optimum time for children concentrating and engaging with their food.
- New Tastes: If your little one refuses or rejects a certain food, don’t be put off offering it again at another meal. Toddlers taste buds take time to develop and it is important for them to taste and experience new textures and favours.
- Family Mealtimes: Try to sit down as a family at mealtimes, as this helps develop your little one’s social and communication skills.
- Reward with your attention: Try to pay your little one attention whilst they are eating, as this will build positive associations with food and eating.
- Self-feeding: Allow your child self-feed with their hands or by giving them cutlery that encourages self-feeding, as this will help them regulate the amount they eat and learn independence.
- Fun: Let them play, pick up and experiment with their food – it is all part of learning, engaging and enjoying food.
- TV and Devices – try to avoid distractions such as TV, iPads or devices at mealtimes, as this prevents mindful eating and inhibits self-regulation. Mindful eating is where the child is focused on their food and how much is going in their mouths.
- Ignoring your child’s cues that they have had enough.
- Rewarding or bribing with another type of food, such as a dessert, puts greater desirability on the wrong sorts of food and can lead to poor diet habits as they grow older.
- Try not to hide or disguise foods with other foods, as toddlers like to see the food they are eating and recognise that it is safe to eat.