Hints and tips to get your little one set up for mealtime success
With thanks to Doddl and Feed Eat Speak
Sitting around a table together as a family and enjoying mealtime success is the holy grail that we all want to achieve. When introducing solids, what can you do in order that you avoid stressful mealtimes down the line and create treasured family memories around the dinner table? Catherine Dodd, founder of children’s cutlery company doddl and feeding and swallowing specialist speech therapist Stacey Zimmels from @feedeatspeak have some hints and tips!
- Get your highchair right!
Eating requires some pretty skilled movements of both the hands and mouth. These skills can be supported by the core of our babies’ little bodies. Babies need central (core) stability and support to help get off to the best start. You wouldn’t eat a sandwich standing on one leg. So why leave your baby feeling off balance? That’s where the highchair comes in…
- Whatever chair you choose, it should ideally have a high back.
- Dangling feet makes it all the harder for your little one to stay balanced. If your choice of highchair doesn’t have an adjustable footrest, you can always make use of a shoebox to help, just pop it under their feet.
- Ensure your baby is sitting at a 90-degree angle. That means legs straight out from the hips, and not leaning too far back or forwards. A rolled-up towel around your baby’s middle can help give extra support if they need it.
- The tray or table should be pushed right up to them, so that there’s no problem reaching all that delicious food. And forget those old etiquette rules. Elbows on the table are actively encouraged because they help support those vital motor skills, and make finger feeding or picking up a loaded spoon so much easier.
- Introduce cutlery early!
If you start with cutlery early you can avoid the drama of a confused toddler – wondering why mum or dad now wants them to start eating with ‘tools’ when they are quite happy eating with their hands, or you feeding them. Using suitable cutlery (like doddl baby cutlery) when you first start introducing food will help connect food and mealtimes with cutlery. It’s all about letting babies explore and associate cutlery with their food. See our website
- Establish where we eat as soon as you can (back to the highchair again!)
Always put the highchair at the family table if that is where you eat your meals. Ideally the whole family will eat together from day 1 (see tip 6) but even if you can’t for every meal, still bring your baby to the table. Encouraging your little one to learn where meals take place will help make this part of their routine. It will also help later down the line to keep boundaries around eating, staying at the table and family mealtimes too.
- Offer the same food as the rest of the family (wherever possible)
If you’ve chosen the baby led weaning approach to starting solids this is fairly instinctive, because you’re offering foods similar to what the rest of the family is having, from the start of weaning. If you’ve decided to begin with spoon feeding, you can also offer finger foods alongside, as long as your baby is able to sit unsupported. You can serve up a part of your meal as the finger food for your infant. Seeing that the food that mum or dad eats is the same that they have, will both show them how to eat. It will also help your little one feel more confident trying foods. They love to copy and if you’re eating it, it’s likely they will try more too!
- Buy products that make it easy for them to enjoy mealtime success.
So many children struggle with cutlery – if you think about it, most children’s cutlery isn’t actually designed for children, they are just small versions of cutlery designed for adults. Children don’t have the dexterity to hold them in a way that makes it easy to eat and that equals stress. So buy products that are designed to make it easy for them. doddl children’s cutlery is designed especially for little hands, with short, contoured handles that make it easy for babies and young children to hold and control. In turn this helps to encourage mealtime success, and makes mealtimes a lot less frustrating.
- Eat as a family whenever you can
This is a tricky one, because we all have busy lives. Sometimes mealtimes are rushed and you have to grab a meal whenever you have a moment. It can also be hard to co-ordinate a baby’s feeding schedule around naps and milk – and then make that work for when you want to eat too. However, eating as a family is a great thing to be doing where you can from the start. If you can allocate time where you all eat together, as early and as consistently as possible, it will really help your little one understand that this is something you do, and they are part of. Sit down together as a family, as a pair if it’s just you and your baby and spend time eating, chatting (talk to your baby even if they’re too small to chat back!) and enjoy this time together. It creates a positive experience for all of you. Young children get a huge amount of social development benefits from this time.
- Follow your baby’s lead and avoid distractions.
This is a tough one. Sometimes we worry about how much our little ones are eating. When they haven’t eaten much, the tendency is to encourage them to have ‘just one more bit’. A quick and easy way to do this can be to use toys, books or TV to distract them whilst you feed them that little bit more. However, as well as learning how to eat, our little ones need to learn when they have had enough. This means they should be supported and encouraged to decide when they are done. Follow your baby’s lead and they will show you when they have had enough. Remember, like us adults their appetites will vary and they will eat different amounts from one meal to the next and day to day. Try to manage your expectations and not focus too much on how much they have eaten, but more on letting your baby be in control. You’ll be well on your way to enjoying mealtime success!