Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Do you want to raise a child who has a healthy approach to food and eating? Do you want to keep mealtimes relaxed and stress-free? Read on...
Learning to eat is an ongoing process
From the outset when a mother and baby are learning to breastfeed (or bottle feed), we want this time to be a relaxed, enjoyable experience. It takes time and patience for your baby to learn these skills. I recommend that parents try and continue this relaxed attitude when starting solids with their baby. In the beginning, feel free to offer solids when it suits you both. In the early days, your baby will not be taking much in. In fact, most of what you offer them may end up everywhere except in their mouth! I would encourage you to eat a meal or a snack with your baby, taking the opportunity to nourish your child and yourself! Eating together gives your baby the chance to explore new foods and enjoy the social experience of a family meal. Over time, your baby will build up to a pattern of eating that more closely matches yours.
Food as an exploratory, sensory experience
Consider your baby as a little explorer, heading out on a lifelong voyage to explore the world of food. In fact, many families offer a snack purely for the sensory experience! It’s important to offer your baby a wide variety of foods and textures. You are not just teaching your baby to enjoy solids for their nutritional value, but also for the wonderful sensory journey that food can take us on.
In the same way that babies cry and complain when they are hungry for milk, babies also cry and complain when they are bored and hungry for sensation. A rich, changing sensory experience is incredibly important for your baby’s development, as your baby’s neuronal pathways in their brain are laid down in direct response to their environment and their experiences. You can talk to your baby to help them explore food using descriptive language, for example ‘Wow! Look at this green broccoli, it’s squishy at the top and crunchy at the bottom.’ Remember to try and keep mealtimes relaxed, fun and engaging.
Food is an amazing sensory experience for your baby. Watch your baby’s reactions and facial expressions as they explore each new taste sensation! Finger feeding especially incorporates visual, tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustory (taste) and interoception (the ability to read and interpret internal bodily signals such as hunger and satiety) sensory inputs. Think about your favourite food. Imagine if you could remember the first time you saw, smelled and tasted that food? Kids use all their senses to learn about food. Let them build on visual, tactile and olfactory senses first before tasting. Tasting a food doesn’t guarantee liking or long-term acceptance of that food. In fact, the opposite may be true if a child is forced to taste before they’re ready.
Cued care and milk feeds
Cued care is ‘responding to your baby in the way that you are thinking that they are asking.’ Parents can use cued care when giving milk to their babies and as a tool to help soothe their baby when they're crying. Breastfeeding mothers can offer the breast frequently and flexibly, whenever they feel their baby is needing food, nourishment, comfort or help to ‘dial down.’ Parents of bottle fed babies can also use ‘cued care’ in paced bottle feeding, a flexible way of feeding that cues into your baby’s appetite and satiety. Babies who are fed in this way can also benefit from all the feel-good hormones associated with breastfeeding and parents can use milk feeds to dial down their baby. (Click here to view a video about paced bottle feeding). Cued care, paced bottle feeds and breastfeeding support are all further discussed in the held. antenatal education newborn preparation session.
The Ellyn Satter ‘division of responsibility’ in feeding
Your child has a natural ability with eating and with your support they can develop the skills to become a capable eater and grow into the body that’s right for them. The Ellyn Satter ‘division of responsibility in feeding’ is an approach that applies to children of all ages: babies having milk, infants starting solids, right through to adolescence.
As a parent, your responsibility is to choose and prepare the food, and set up a pleasant and relaxed eating environment (the what, when and where). It’s recommended that parents appreciate their child’s lack of food experience and try not to focus on their ‘likes and dislikes’ of foods. One idea is to regularly offer children meals and snacks that contains 2-3 food groups. Just because your child scrunches up their face or doesn’t try the food, doesn’t mean they don’t like a particular food. Wait a few days and offer the food again. It can take many exposures for your child to build up to trying a new food or enjoying eating that food.
Part of your role as a parent is to trust your child to learn and understand their own cues of appetite and satiety. You can support your child to grow in a way that is right for him and learn to eat food that you enjoy as well. Try not to coerce or put pressure on eating. No ‘just a few more bites’ or ‘you have to finish your plate before you can leave the table’. In fact, when we get dialled up and stressed, the hormones of adrenaline and cortisol can switch off the appetite centre. As a parent you can trust that your child will eat the amount of food that they need. Your child is responsible for whether they eat and how much.
Following these strategies, parents can model healthy attitudes to food, prevent feeding problems, celebrate family meal time together and help their child become a capable eater.
held. proudly support families using the Possums Approach or Neuroprotective Developmental Care (NDC). It's a revolutionary way of supporting babies and their families that incorporates the latest neuroscience, gut science, lactation science, and sleep science. NDC is based on cued care: responding to your child in the way you think they are asking. held. are proudly the first accredited Neuroprotective Developmental Care Practitioner in Asia providing holistic evidence-based care in: antenatal education, sleep, settling, breastfeeding support and newborn care. held. is based in Hong Kong and provides online consultations to families all around the world. Click here to read more about our services
About the author:
Dr Clementine David is an Australian trained paediatrics doctor, the CEO and Founder of held. and a mum of two young kids who love both broccoli and ice cream!
Tags: Starting solids, healthy approach, healthy diet for children and babies and toddlers, baby food, baby led weaning, puree, sensory experience, Ellyn Satter ‘division of responsibility, appetite, cued care