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Introducing Solids – Part 2: Creating a Healthy & Pleasant Mealtime Environment


May 30, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Food & Recipes


Introducing Solids - Mealtime Environment | Baby & Beyond

This is the second part in my series on introducing solids. If you missed the first part (about how my baby skipped purees altogether and was eating family food by 9 months), you can catch up on it here: Introducing Solids – Part 1: How We Transitioned Baby to Family Food by 9 MonthsIn this post I am going to talk about how we created a safe, healthy and pleasant mealtime environment.

 

Why Focus So Much on the Environment…Does it Really Matter?:

In one word…YES! It was SO important in our feeding journey to focus on creating the right environment to make mealtime pleasant, easy, safe and healthy. We did not want eating to become a forced activity that is just done because it HAS to be done. Rather we wanted Baby N to be interested in the meal, to develop a relationship with food, to want to eat and want to feed himself. That is why creating the right atmosphere around mealtime was so, SO important.

 

“We wanted Baby N to be interested in the meal, to develop a relationship with food, to want to eat and want to feed himself.”

 

What we Encouraged:

Sitting down in one place to eat – Baby N has a fixed chair at our dining table, with his booster seat strapped on. Of course safety is one aspect to this, but also having him sit in one place rather than running around helps him focus on the meal which is very critical is developing an interest in meals. When he knows it is time to eat, he himself pulls out his chair and asks us to make him sit. We also take the booster seat with us wherever we go.

Of course there are times when he simply refuses to sit at the table, so I allow him to sit in his play area and eat, but only as long as he is sitting in one place. I certainly avoid running behind him and feeding him, so that he associates meals with sitting down in one place. If he starts running around, it usually means he is not interested in eating, so I give him a break and try again after 10-15 mins.

 

Eating in his play area

Eating in his play area

 

Booster seat joins us on vacations as well

Booster seat joins us on vacations as well

 

Joint mealtimes with family – As far as possible, we have him join in at our mealtimes. Babies learn by observing others. This had 2 advantages – Baby N started showing interest in eating our family food early on, instead of his baby food. Also he taught himself to eat. I have never taught him to scoop food with a spoon or to pick a piece of chapati and dip it in the gravy. He has understood by observing us that this is what is to be done and he has learnt himself by practicing over and over again. Of course this leads to a mess at times and this leads me to my next very important point.

 

joint_mealtime

Joint mealtime made Baby N interested in family food and encouraged him to eat himself by watching us eat

 

Importance of Letting the Child Make a Mess:

Playing with food and making a mess is all part of the learning process. I allow Baby N to pick at his food with his hands and cutlery. Here are a few reasons why:

Learning to pick up food with hand is a form of sensory play – Babies learn to distinguish textures and temperatures – hot, cold, runny, crumbly, sticky, slimy, creamy.

It encourages hand eye coordination and develops fine motor skills – Scooping up food with a spoon and bringing it to the mouth is no easy feat for a baby! It gives them a sense of achievement. Lets face it. Your baby is going to explore this skill anyway by picking up objects off the floor and bringing it to his mouth. Wouldn’t you rather let him explore with food?

It gives them independence and confidence – These days Baby N pushes away my hand if I try to feed him. He wants to do it all on his own. Imagine the relief I feel when I can eat my own meal uninterrupted without having to feed him after every bite!

 

“Playing with food and making a mess is all part of the learning process.”

 

What We Discouraged:

Distractions – We try our best to minimize distractions during meal times. I have mentioned that we “try our best” because at some times it is just not possible. Especially with joint meal time when people are talking around the table to each other or directly to Baby N, he tends to get distracted. However we discourage toys, books, music, phone, looking out of the window etc. while he is eating. I talk to him about the food he is eating, the vegetables, tastes, textures etc. Initially he used to get very fidgety and wanted to play. I used to hand him an empty bowl and spoon to play with. This in fact helped him master his grasp on the cutlery. Slowly I started giving him a couple of spoons of food in his own bowl as well.

 

Force Feeding – One of the reasons for avoiding distractions was also to make sure that I am  not force feeding Baby N. You may have noticed yourself when you are in front of the TV or out with friends chitchatting, you end up eating more than you usually would have.

No making aeroplane / bird actions with the spoon just to make him open his mouth. No scaring him with “if you don’t eat your food I will eat it up / crow will take it away / police will come to take you”, etc.

The focus is never to finish everything on his plate. Force feeding just makes mealtime a dreaded chore for the caregiver and unpleasant for the baby. I want Baby N to be in control of how much he eats because only he will know when he is hungry and when he is full. When he starts indicating that he is done (he does this by raising his hand or he starts throwing his spoon and plate on the floor), I do not force him to eat any further.

 

“The focus is never to finish everything on his plate. Force feeding just makes mealtime a dreaded chore for the caregiver and unpleasant for the baby.”

 

Negative Comments – I know some people have a problem with looking at the mess. I try to discourage people around me from making faces or negative comments such as messy / dirty / piggy / monkey / clown etc. (believe me I have heard them all). If Baby N is made to think that he is doing something wrong, he might just give up trying altogether. I will admit, it can get difficult if you are out in a restaurant or at someone’s house. People may have been silently judging me for allowing my child to make a mess in public. So what I do when we have to eat out is to take dry food such as paratha, idli, dosa, pulao etc. and avoid daals and gravies. And we make it a point to always clear up ourselves after Baby N is done eating.

 

To sum it up, we provide a safe, healthy, easy and positive mealtime environment and Baby N decides how much and how fast / slow he wants to eat. This takes a lot of patience, but in the end it makes mealtime pleasant for all of us.