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How to Help Children Develop Positive Attitudes About Food
One of the most important things you can teach a child is to have a healthy and positive relationship with and about food. Allowing children to make choices and feel as if they are in control of their little world will lead to healthy feelings about food.
There are often concerns about what and how children eat. Are they getting the nutrition they need? Are they eating enough? They only eat certain foods, they don’t like vegetables and eat with their fingers.
Well, what is normal? Changing behaviors at different times in a child’s development is normal.
Before one year, a child’s growth begins to slow down and children eat regular table meals with the family. Choking is the biggest problem when a child is exploring chewing and swallowing. Any food that is hard, round and difficult to chew should be avoided. Children must always sit in one place, preferably the table, and be supervised while eating.
Just like any other social skill, children are not born knowing what is acceptable in terms of manners and behavior at the table. An example is often the best teacher.
All meals and snacks should be eaten in a quiet environment. Don’t expect a child to eat when they are irritable, tired or sleepy.
Plan for transition time between play and food either for dinner or for a snack. This is a good time to read a story or sing a special song to set the mood.
Set times for meals and snacks iIt is helpful for children to know what to expect. Be flexible, their stomachs are small, they need to eat often. An overly hungry child is set up for overeating when food is available.
Offer small portions. Large portions or plates that are too full, with too many things, can be overwhelming.
It is it is not uncommon for young children to touch their food, put in their mouth, chew it for a while and then take it out and look at it. It’s an experiment.
Offer new foods one at a time and serve them with foods that you know they are usually very fond of. It’s okay to have a child try a new food, but that doesn’t mean they’ll like it. It may take 10 or 12 times for a child to like something or they may never like it.
Never force children to eat food they don’t want or make them finish everything on their plate. No one should eat anything they don’t like, including adults. There are so many choices available to us from all food groups.
Try food in other forms or dishes. For example, simple beans as a side dish may not be a favorite, but in a soup they take on a different texture and taste. The groceries are all still there.
Offer options. As adults we accept the fact that we don’t like all foods, children are no different. Let the child decide what they would like to eat among the healthy options you have provided.
As they grow older, encourage participation in all aspects of meals from shopping to cooking to cleaning. All age groups can do something to get involved no matter how small.
If behavior erupts that you are not happy about, such as throwing food, remove the child from the area or simply remove the food and try again later. They need to know that this is not appropriate and the end of mealtime is probably enough to make them understand. Be careful that the child does not start using this as a way of communicating that they are finished eating.
When they play with their food, it is an obvious sign that they are full. Ask, “Are you all stuffed?” or “Is your belly full?” Help them understand what this feeling is and respect their response. They should be finished. The next meal period will be at the scheduled time.
Children should determine how much to eat, not caregivers.
lastly, don’t use food as a reward or punishment.
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