As Eric and I transitioned from married without kids, to married with kids, we never imagined the way a simple dinner could change. We went from where two people sat, conversed, ate, and rose, into a CIRCUS and a feat to overcome every single meal.
Today we’ll talk about the varying stages of young children and their relationship to meal time. There’s a LOT to say on this topic.
Babies (4mo.-1 year)
When our kids were tiny babies, if they were awake, we would put the bouncer/bumbo/highchair at the table so they could watch and observe what we did at dinner time.
When it was time for the kids to begin solid food I found SO many different ways to go about this. Some start with rice cereal and introduce different foods one at a time, some make/buy pureed baby food, and others give the baby whatever food they are eating from the table-as long as it is not a choking hazard.
We’ve done a little of everything. With Eva, around 6 months, I observed she wasn’t sleeping as well through the night so that was my cue to start solids. I started with rice cereal, started mixing in banana, then I made my own baby food, using that <— book as a guide.
By one year, we didn’t prepare a separate meal for her, she was able to eat what we had for dinner. This was the beginning of our desire to have One meal for One Family.
Then, with Malachi, I started with the rice cereal, made a little baby food, but started offering him what we were eating much sooner. My sister, skipped the cereal and baby food part and put food from their adult meal on Addy’s tray. Otherwise known as baby led weaning. Today pediatricians are recommending you introduce as many foods as you can starting at 6 months, (except honey). With all these book recommendations check your library first. So helpful and you can read several books on the topic to get well versed before you decide.
If I were to do it all over again, I would probably skip pureed baby food 🙂 Now, some people don’t get to choose, and their babies have reflux, allergies, eating disorders, or texture problems. A doctor, specialist or therapist would help guide those decisions.
Communicating with your baby right from the start is going to be SO helpful. We learned the signs for “more”, “all done”, “milk”, and “please”. You can find these easily with a quick google search.
As for issues with babies, here are a few we’ve run into.
1. Baby is not hungry, refusing all food. Your baby might not be hungry. If they are nursing, bottle fed…eating is a bonus at this point. Don’t worry if they don’t eat. My kids would eat in a three day rotation. They would eat ALL THE FOOD on day one and then day 2 and 3 they would barely eat anything. They might be teething and food hurts their gums. When this was the case I went back to rice/oatmeal cereal with mashed banana. Another reason could be because they are ill. My kids wouldn’t eat and then BAM the next day they would be at the Dr. for ear infection.
2. Baby throws cup/spoon/plate on the floor. Oh boy. 1 week after Eric left for deployment my 9 month old Eva took her cup, looked at me, smiled, and threw it forcefully on the floor. The first time this happens, TAKE CARE OF IT. I’m not even going to give suggestions because I don’t want comments about being to soft or too harsh. You are smart-make a plan for that.
Some equipment I would recommend for 0-6 mo.
Baby Spoons. Try to get thin spoons, but deep enough to hold food!
Plates/Bowls. When you buy plates and bowls make sure they fit on whatever eating surface you have, (high chair tray)! Seems like a no-brainer but we have two plates that don’t fit on the tray! Sectioned plates with a high lip help the kids push the food against the edge, or scoop against with a spoon. Rectangle plates roll less in the dishwasher and are easier for kids to eat from. I’d buy all the same kind of plates, so they stack in your cupboard. Bowls-I like the flattest bottom possible for less likelihood to tip over.
Cups. Oh man. When we introduced water to the kids or whole milk in a cup we went through SO many. They leaked, the milk didn’t come out fast enough, there were too many parts to clean…The Nuk cup with handles turned out to be our best starter. I wanted them to have to tip the cup to get the liquid. Then as they got older we moved to the Camelback for water.
High Chairs and Boosters. When you look for a high chair, I think it’s nice if you can find the following: High enough where you can see that baby over the dinner table. High enough that if you stand to feed them you won’t break your back. Not much recline. A strap that actually holds your little 6 month old baby in place. A tray that detaches and has a high lip to keep the plate IN PLACE, and not pushed over the edge. Least amount of cleaning surface as possible. It will get SUPER messy, so the less to clean, the happier the mama.
We loved the bumbo with tray for 3 months and then we moved on to the highchair. The stability it offered was worth it to us for that short time. Borrow/craig’s list them. They have a new bumbo that includes tray, has harness, seat straps, and grows with the kids (take out the green part). Wonderful idea!
For Malachi he still uses a booster that he’s had since he was 1.5. We like this because we can take it with us to Grandma’s/others houses and he’ll have a place to sit. The tray is adjustable to his size and it has great straps.
Face wiping cloths. You will have to wipe their face, and hands down after every meal. These Norwex cloths are SO wonderful because they rinse well, I can use them for days, DAYS people, and they have a good grip to remove food! They are also great with eczema. ANYWHO, we hang our face cloth on the oven handle with a shower ring, so it doesn’t get mixed up with the dishwashing rag.
Bibs. I think cloth bibs are adorable and good for rice cereal/baby food days, but I do not like how often I had to wash them. The silicone bibs I don’t like because they often got in the way of the tray and the baby’s line of sight to the food. I DO like plastic bibs that I can rinse and hang on the oven handle to dry and can use a few days before throwing in the wash. The IKEA ones are AWESOME for super messy meals. Or feeding kids who are already dressed for church. We use them to paint in now.
Toddlers (1-3 years)
Teaching toddlers how to feed themselves is one of your tasks during this stage. They are most likely proficient at picking up bites of food and putting it in their mouths, but what about utensils?
You go about teaching this skill as you do any another. Slow, with praise, and knowing when to quit for the day. You could start by showing them how you do it and have them mimic. Put food on their spoon/fork and have them put it in their mouth. And when they get tired of the practice, and when they make a big mess; No scolding, just smiles and let’s try again tomorrow!
Some food at this age is better eaten when you make it bite sized. We use kitchen shears to cut spaghetti, pizza, etc. for the kids.
Sometimes they get tired of taking their own bites. It takes a lot of concentration and hand eye coordination to feed themselves. So they might still be hungry, but are just too tired to do it themselves. I think it’s ok at this point to encourage them by helping them to get bites on their food, or making a fun game out of taking bites.
When they aren’t hungry or refuse food. Don’t panic. Think through all the reasons. Are they teething, getting ill, tired, full from a snack? Is the texture of the food on their fingers or in their mouths bothersome? You can always try again in 30 minutes. If they like clean hands, maybe they need to start having a napkin or a damp cloth they can wipe on as they eat.
The amount of food you give them could be daunting. We like to start with putting 75% of what we think they should eat on their plates, and maybe no fruit until the end. Our children will eat all the fruit and lose appetite for the important stuff. Milk too-our kids can and have sat down to dinner, drank their entire cup of milk, and then lose appetite. There can always be seconds for hungry eaters, but this will help you relax when they finish their plate, instead of getting tense about a full plate of food that expected too much of their appetites.
I’ve found there is usually a sweet spot for meal times especially with toddlers. If you have them eat too early or too late, you may have fussy fussy children. We eat within the first 30 minutes of waking up (6:30ish) . Lunch is the same every day (11:30), so that dinner can be the same each day (5:00). This helps keep their hunger cycles balanced so you have hungry children when it’s time to eat.
If you prepare snack, make sure your morning or afternoon snack doesn’t steal from meal time food. If they didn’t finish their breakfast-their morning snack can be the remains, same with lunch! Helps cut down waste, and teaches they can’t wait for a snack.
When they sit for meals, make a place they can reach food easily, a booster seat without the tray pulled up to the table is our system right now. But, for breakfast and lunch our kids sit at their kid table in the kitchen. They love it! This is so great for when we have company and not enough boosters or places at the big table.
When they are finished with their meals. They can ask to be excused, clean up their area, even pick up 10 pieces of food off the floor, and get a CLEAN kiss from mom after their face is wiped!
Soon, we will talk other kid topics like: foods/snacks I serve throughout the day, difficult eaters, and kid manners.
What tips do you guys have for little kid eaters?
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