When you are feeding your toddler or when they are beginning to learn to feed themselves, you both have different roles. Both of your roles are important in developing healthy habits for your growing children.
When you’re feeding your child, it’s important to remember that you are in charge. This means you decide what foods are available for your child to choose from, when they eat, where they eat, and how to offer them their meals. This does not mean to force food onto your child.
What does this mean?
You are your child’s provider and their role model, so you have a powerful influence on what they actually eat.
Generally, you should feed them what the rest of the family eats to expose them to new foods and include them in the family meal. Your grocery shopping trips should be filled with a variety of healthy options so your child has exposure to multiple options and the ability to choose and explore food on their own.
Young children thrive on routine. You decide when they eat, and the time they eat should be roughly the same every day. It’s recommended to offer them 3 regular meals and 2-3 snacks a day. This way, if they are not hungry for one of these meals, another opportunity to nourish themselves is only a couple of hours away.
Where a child eats is just as important as when and what. Eating a family style meal is an inclusive, positive experience for children and it teaches them important values about eating and social life. You can learn more about family style meals here.
Eating with the family encourages young children that are just learning how to eat to see how you are eating and feeding yourselves. It allows toddlers to follow by example and explore how to hold utensils and eat food.
Deciding how a child eats means how foods are presented. A good way to have a child try a new food is to pair it with one their familiar with, so they can slowly get comfortable with the new food. Give your child time and space to explore what they’re offered, even if this means that they are playing with the food or are messy eaters. Playing with their food means that a child is taking their time to explore it and learn about it before deciding to eat it. This is actually a positive step for children to eat healthy and be open-minded toward various options.
Your Toddler’s Role
When your toddler is learning how to feed himself, their role is to decide how much to eat and what to eat from what they are offered.
Your toddler knows how hungry they are. The amount of food they consume is dependent on their appetite, their activity level, their growth, and many other factors. When they are hungry, they will eat. Forcing them to clear their plate when they are satisfied does not allow them to learn portion control. This kind of pressuring can lead to your child associating negativity with a particular food and then refusing to eat it.
Setting up positive eating habits for your child is important for them to continue eating nutritiously in the future. At Childventures, our nutrition program works to help instil these positive habits.