Saturday, March 10, 2012

Taming toddler tastebuds

How you can shape your child’s eating habits right from their first mouthful
This week my eldest child turned six years old and I felt a little nostalgic, but also very proud.
I felt like I had reached another milestone – that we had survived the baby and toddler years, and now have an independent child under our roof.
Sure, I’ve still got a very long way to go in parenting years, especially when I look at my confident and happy six-year-old and then to my very dependent and clingy toddler.
One of the big differences I see between them is at the dinner table. 
I’ve learned a lot about what to feed my eldest daughter, but I’m still somewhat figuring out the little one who loves nothing more than to scream black and blue for a banana but as soon as it is peeled, wants nothing to do with it.
So, if you have a toddler or you are just starting solids with your little one, here’s some great tips I have found to help you along the way.
First of all, if your child isn’t eating, you have to determine if there are any other reasons why.
Have they been ill, tired, attention-seeking or teething? Even a runny nose picked up at playgroup can affect their eating.
There are many factors that can be an influence, including their growth pattern. Children’s needs vary depending on their growth rate and level of physical activity.
Three things to remember are that children will eat when they are hungry, no healthy child has ever starved to death from refusing food, and no single food is essential to a child’s diet – substitutes for refused food can be easily found.

For example, replace milk with cheese and yoghurt, or replace meat with green vegetables, cereals and lentils. It’s important to feed your toddler when they are hungry and don’t wait until they are too tired to eat.
They quite often need to eat throughout the day so snacks will ensure they get their daily requirements and sources of energy even if they barely touch their evening meal.
However, it also is important to have family meal times so everyone can eat together and you can set an example for your children.
Children thrive on routine, so keep mealtimes regular and serve them the same meal a few times a week with some variation once you have hit on something they like.
This may seem really boring, but it won’t last forever. Food fads are very common and rarely a danger to health.
As a way to show their independence, children will change their mind about food so frequently that the diet eventually becomes quite varied.
It’s usually much easier (and less stressful) for parents to play along with fads rather than fight them.
Bribes such as “eat your vegies and I’ll give you ice cream” may backfire over time as they may end up disliking vegetables intensely throughout their childhood.
Try hiding the vegies in soups, pasta, rice, stews or salads or experiment with sauces to help make the food taste better.
Don’t be tempted to give non-nutritious snacks in a desperate attempt to make sure your child doesn’t starve.
They will become less tempted to eat family meals if they are filling up on sugary or salty snacks throughout the day.
Also, try not to fill them up on fluids such as juice, milk, cordial or even water, just before a meal.
Children old enough to help serve themselves, set the table, help prepare the food (such as wash lettuce leaves), and call everyone to the table, are more likely to enjoy eating.
Discovering food means experiencing the tastes, textures and colours that different foods have.
Try exploring food through play – everyone has made a macaroni necklace at some stage in their lives, but try taking it further by making carrot stick people, potato shapes and fancy face pizzas.
Food stories are a good idea. Why is cheese yellow?
Where do potatoes come from? How is spaghetti made?
Arousing curiosity in your children will help them overcome any fears they have about food and will encourage them to try new foods. Keep offering new foods even if your child rejects them at first.
They need to see them several times before they look familiar.
In my case I threw out quite a lot of scrambled eggs before my daughter decided it was actually a yummy meal!
Fussy eaters are often slow eaters who dawdle over their plate so don’t hurry them, just be patient.
Cut food into pieces so they can hold it themselves or provide spoons for soft foods – it will be messy to begin with but you’ll be amazed how quickly they learn to get the spoon to their mouth!
And finally, it is important to remain calm and happy, and don’t force-feed your child.
If meal times are happy times, including praising your children even if they have not had much, they will look forward to meals instead of dreading the stress of force-feeding.


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