Feeding Foundations For Success
Parents never intend for their children to eat only junk food and chicken nuggets. However, unfortunately there are many children currently who have an extremely limited food repertoire. Eating is a basic skill most people are not concerned with until they have a child who refuses to eat or only eats a handful of foods. If your child’s food selection is extremely limited, try and implement these tips in your daily routine:
Introduce family meal time
Children learn by watching others. This is true in the context of feeding as they observe others and respond to their parent/caregiver’s response to food. Unfortunately, in our busy lives kids often eat meals on the run or while roaming around the house. Introducing family meal times is the first step to laying a foundation for success. Meal times should be a social activity with family members seated at the table and caregivers eating with their children. It is important for children to have an appropriate sized chair with a table or surface that allows for them to successfully self-feed. It is completely understandable that most parents feed their children to reduce the massive mess that is created when kids are learning to feed themselves; however, it is time to embrace the mess! Allow your children to be as independent with self-feeding as possible and only provide assistance when they request it.
Develop a mealtime routine
Most children should be eating every 2 ½ to 3 hours with meals that are approximately 15-30 minutes long and snacks lasting approximately 10-15 minutes. Use of a timer might be helpful when initially introducing meal times at the family table. Expect your children to remain at the table for the duration of the meal and no longer allow grazing between meals, as this will help your children build up hunger between meals. Shockingly, when children graze throughout the day they actually consume fewer calories than if they are eating consistent meals and snacks.
Don’t give up
Remember that children need multiple exposures to newly introduced foods. It is important to continue offering food items even when it appears your child does not care for it. Offer a variety of developmentally appropriate tastes and textures, including at least 3 different foods at each meal and snack (one protein, one carbohydrate and one fruit or vegetable). It is often beneficial to talk about and describe the food, discussing the appearance, flavor and texture.
Feeding is meant to be an enjoyable experience for the entire family, but establishing a new routine with new expectations will likely be a challenging process. If you feel overwhelmed or need additional assistance and resources reach out to a feeding therapist!
Information taken from The AEIOU Systematic Approach to Pediatric Feeding, Nina Johanson, MS, CCC-SLP.