11 Ideas to help make mealtimes with your baby and toddler happy, sociable times

I’ve been sent through two questions that have got me thinking! They are all around what to do if your baby stops eating before they have finished the food you have prepared for them. The mum wanted to know:

  • If her son doesn’t finish the meal she prepares him, should she make him have one more bite so that the baby doesn’t have the power?
  • Is it a good idea to use desserts as a reward or withhold them if your baby doesn’t eat their food?

Well my thoughts on this are all based around feeding a healthy baby or toddler who is growing, putting on weight and meeting his milestones. If you are at all concerned about your baby or toddler’s diet contact your Plunket nurse or GP who can give you advice and if nothing else put your mind at ease.

Mealtimes can be a very stressful time of the day for some parents. They feel like their babies never eat enough, surely can’t be getting enough nutrients and are bound to wake up in the night starving hungry. So even when their baby is showing clear signals that they are full or don’t like the food being offered, they keep on encouraging their baby to eat and by the end of the meal the mum is tearing her hair out and the baby has possibly shed at least one tear.

I’ve been there! Freddie refused to eat off a spoon from 7 months and for several months I felt like he barely ate anything at all. I decided I did not want every mealtime to be a power struggle and a miserable time for both of us. So there were a few things I did and also a few principles that I followed and still do, to help keep me sane on the days when Freddie turns his nose up at a meal (thankfully not as often nowadays). I hope they will help you to make mealtimes happy times with your baby or toddler. None of them are based on science just on my gut feeling as a Mummy!

Eat as a family ~ I found that making mealtimes a social time when you sit down and eat together wherever possible helps reduce the stress around mealtimes as it takes the focus off how much your baby is eating. You are also providing a role model for your baby and they will copy what you are doing and probably want to eat the food on your plate even if they don’t eat much of their own! I find it is especially helpful when I am introducing a new food to Freddie as they can have a ‘taste’ of a new food that I’m eating rather than making a whole meal out of it. I love my lunchtimes with Freddie they are happy, sociable times with lots of laughter.

Finger food is fab! ~ If your baby can, let them feed themselves. Young children are good at being able to tell when they are full and if you let them, will give you clear cues about when they have had enough to eat. In addition finger food is a great way for your baby to practice their pincer grip, it improves their co-ordination, can teach your baby about different textures and gives them independence. As long as they can chew and you offer them foods that are soft and easy to swallow they shouldn’t choke, but never leave them unattended. As your baby gets older they can have their own set of cutlery instead of eating with their hands.

Make portion sizes smaller~  I’m pretty sure nearly every mum expects or wants their baby to eat more than they probably need to and often thinks to themselves “just one more mouthful”. In my post ‘Tips on how to get an 11 mth old to eat more brekkie’ I explained how I use Freddie’s hand as a portion guideline for how much I expect him to eat:

  • Carbohydrate – a clenched fist
  • Fruit and Vegetables – a handful
  • Protein – his palm
  • Cheese – his thumb

Babies have hungry days and not so hungry days just like we do ~ So many factors can affect how much your baby eats – teething, tiredness, distractions, colds. I find looking at what Freddie eats over the week is much more helpful that looking at one meal or a single day. I hope that by not forcing Freddie to eat everything on his plate I’m helping him to learn to listen to his body and understand when he is hungry and when he is full.

Adjust your expectations ~ A piece of really helpful advice I was given on a Parent’s Centre course was to reduce the amount of food I expected Freddie to eat. Use a smaller bowl and be pleased when they finish everything. You can always offer seconds after all!

Reduce the choices you give ~ I found that reducing the foods I offer Freddie at one time means that he will eat food that he isn’t such a fan of. I have also found that clearly separating the foods seems to encourage him to eat. This plate from boon is awesome for that, it is also slip resistant making it easier for your baby  to feed themselves.

Get your toddler involved in preparing their food ~ Getting your child involved in preparing meals encourages them to try new foods. Freddie loves stirring, pressing buttons and watching. I’ve definitely noticed a link between the meals he has helped out with and how well he eats.

Stop the night-time feeds ~ Night-time feeds are a problem for babies over one for two reasons. There is a connection between tooth decay in 6 year olds and children who had feeds at night-time. There is less saliva in your mouth when you are asleep, so your baby’s teeth are more exposed to decay after a night-time feed than during the day. Night-time feeds also mean your baby won’t need to eat as much food in the day and can be pickier about what they eat. This is a really helpful article with suggestions about how to wean your baby off night-time feeds.

Try and try again ~ It can take 10 or more tastes of a food for your baby to like it. Even after lots of tastes they still might not like it. But then again everyone has foods they don’t like so why shouldn’t they? I found with Freddie that if I offered a food he didn’t like a few times in a row and was still unsuccessful leaving it a few weeks and then offering it again often resulted in him then accepting it for no rhyme or reason. Often he will eat a food prepared one way but not another, for example he loves boiled potatoes but won’t eat mashed potatoes (although he loves mashing boiled potatoes). Babies and toddlers each prefer different textures so try preparing foods in different ways to find out what they prefer.

Remove distractions ~ This will help your toddler or baby concentrate on eating. Turning off the TV and putting the toys aside will help make mealtimes about eating and socialising.

We leave room for dessert! ~ Just like adults, babies and toddlers leave room for the foods they like. Having said that dessert in this house is fruit or yoghurt or something healthy so if Freddie is holding out for one of those I’m not overly concerned. Obviously there will be times, like celebrations, when there are less healthy foods on offer. I hope that by not making a reward or punishment out of ‘sometimes’ food he will make healthy choices as he grows up and will understand that some foods we eat ‘always’ and some ‘sometimes’.

As I said at the start of this post these are just my experiences. I hope some if not all of them will help you have happy mealtimes in your homes. If you found this post helpful you might also like to read 5 tips for stress free family mealtimes even if you have a fussy eater.


4 thoughts on “11 Ideas to help make mealtimes with your baby and toddler happy, sociable times

  1. Pingback: Hunger Strike – Tips for feeding a fussy eater « Freddie's Food

  2. Pingback: Starting Solids – Hunger Strike | Freddie's Food

  3. Pingback: 5 tips for stress free Family Meals even if you have a fussy eater | Freddie's Food

  4. Pingback: Munch Cooking Fussy eaters on hunger strike? » Munch Cooking

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