Mealtime can be a wonderful time to connect or it can create stress in lots of families. Many issues can cause frustration and make meals less fun for all. Are you just getting started on your meal time journey with your little one, or needing some tips to reset? We thought we’d share our 5 top hacks for starting off mealtimes on the right foot. Here are 5 simple tips to set you and your little one up for success.
- Create a routine
Sometimes it’s nice to be unstructured or relaxed, but whether we like it or not kids function better with routines. It allows them to know what is happening and reduces anxiety and stress. Creating a routine that lets them know mealtime is about to occur can help with transitions and time spent at the table. Try a few of the following tips:
- Plan to have set meal and snack times throughout the day spaced apart at regular intervals, no snacking in between
- Try to keep the timing for meals and snacks relatively the same throughout the day
- Sing a song or use the same music each time before it’s time to go eat
- Use handwashing as a transition into the high chair or sitting at the table your child will learn that it’s a cue to get ready to eat, especially if you pair it with a verbal routine like a rhyme or song
- Finish up your meal using the same activity, such as face washing so they know the signal that it’s over
- Serve meals family style
The goal of family-style dining is for children to develop self-help skills, social skills, empower them to make their own food choices and create pride and ownership of the food they are eating. Have all of the food being offered on the table and as soon as your little one is ready place the foods on their tray for them to explore. As they get older allow them to serve up the food themselves which enhances their interactions with the food, allows for skill development and promotes independence. Any time a child is involved and feels like they have some control over the experience is a win for everyone. Children can take up to 15 tries of a food to decide they don’t like it, and by having the food there for them to smell, touch and possibly taste is a step closer to them eating it. If you start this habit from the first day you are more likely to keep exposing them to new foods.
- Use the right seating
We all sit better when our chair is comfortable, this includes infants and toddlers. We often have toddlers seated in chairs with no foot support and feet dangling. As adults we like to plant our feet on something when we are sitting, kids are the same. It really helps with stamina and ability to sit for longer periods. Without the proper support, eating may be so hard that they would rather just skip it, or at least end a meal sooner than they would have. Also poor seating often leaves kids very wiggly in their chairs and these behaviors make it hard for the child to focus on their meal, and are totally distracting for adults. Look for a high chair or booster chair that will grow with your child and provides for good back support and foot support as they grow. If your toddler is sitting in a chair think about placing a box or support under the chair for their feet to rest on. Also don’t feel the need to rush your child out of their high chair, having a structured seat for longer can increase the amount of time spent at the table.
- Make meals social
This is key. If your mealtimes in your house are separate, kids and adults don’t eat together, we encourage you to make the switch. Meals from the start should be together as a family, for many reasons. Infants and toddlers learn a lot from watching us eat and are more likely to want and try the foods we eat when we eat together. They will also stay longer if we are all enjoying our time at the table together. It’s a great time to talk, laugh and enjoy together. Start off on the right foot and even if your little one is just starting their first foods, have them at the table with you right awary! Talk about things that don’t have to do with eating or the meal, rather than focusing on the food, this will make meal time a fun and social interaction. Increasing positive feelings and emotions during mealtimes will increase the amount of time kids sit and make it more likely for them to think of eating in a positive manner.
- No pressure
Unfortunately we often get into the habit of creating pressure on our children at meal times, whether we like it or not. Many research studies have demonstrated that coercing, encouraging or bribing kids to eat does not work. It has the opposite effect and reduces their willingness to eat. Pressure comes in many different forms including; cheerleading, negotiating, bribing, begging, pleading, comparing, and rewarding. None of these strategies will work in the long run. It is a big shift to make but taking away all of the pressure or starting off on the right foot and not creating pressure from day one will go a long way to improving our mealtime interactions.
If you find mealtime is consistently a struggle and you want help, please reach out and we will be there to support you on your journey!