How to Create a
Happy and Healthy Eater
Rogers Bridge » How to Create a Happy and Healthy Eater
First time parents often hear about how easy it is to transition your baby to solid foods. You may
expect to sit your child in the highchair, cut up food nice and small, and see your child open their
mouth, chew, and swallow with no problem. The expectation for most parents is that all of a
sudden, and with very little prompting, your kid will eat everything and accept any type of food
Sounds easy, right?
(Related Reading: Why isn’t my child eating well?)
Well… that may be the case until you try it. Transitioning to solid foods may come with unexpected complications or difficulties you do not know how to handle. You may notice your child is very picky when it comes to eating at mealtimes. Instead of happily eating the food you provided, your child may scream, throw, run away, or refuse. The next thing you know you may be chasing your child around the house trying to get them to take a bite of any food just to make sure they are fed.
Despite what you may have been told, feeding your child solid foods can be exhausting and, if not handled appropriately, lead to further complications down the road.
To help make the transition to solid food easier for families, we have compiled a list of helpful tips and ideas to smooth the way and promote a happy and healthy eater.
Top 5 Strategies for Transitioning Baby to Solid Foods
Setting: Have family style meals
Offer meals and snacks with other family members who are also eating. Create an environment with limited or no distractions, in other words no toys and screens at the table. Focus on eating the meal and enjoying family time. Children become interested in eating when they see others enjoy food as well. Model how you take a bite of your favorite food and chew and swallow with a smile.
Structure and Consistency
Have your baby sitting in a highchair or booster seat at the table. Children should be well supported in an appropriate size chair and seated with a tray or table surface at appropriate height for their size. Be consistent and have a pleasant beginning and end routine so the child knows what to expect. Make it predictable and enjoyable. For example, first you wash your hands, next you set the table, then you sit in your seat to eat. Your child can help you prepare the meal and help clean up the mess.
Schedule regular mealtime and snack time intervals
Most children should be eating at regular intervals throughout the day (2.5 to 3 hours apart, 5-6x/day). Snacks should last about 10-15 minutes and meals should last about 15-30 minutes. Expect the child to stay at the table for the appropriate length of time. If they choose not to eat what is presented, they must wait for the next snack or mealtime to eat. Children take advantage of time and try to take control of meals. Please be aware that this strategy may not work for children that have different medical diagnoses or are struggling with weight gain.
Food Exposure and Getting Messy
Expose children to a wide variety of tastes and textures as well as different brands of foods. Exposure and sensory play are extremely important for a child’s development. The more food sights and smells the baby experiences, the more they are likely to accept new tastes. We determine the taste of food by its smell and sight helps to build anticipation. When all senses are involved, your child is more likely to try new foods, and eventually eat a wider variety of foods. Include your child in the preparation process so they can see, smell, and feel how food is prepared to eat. The messier a baby gets around the food, like getting food on their hands and face, the more likely they will be to pick up the food and try it. This is because the touch of sticky foods dampens down the early sensitivity that newborns experience to touch. The more your baby touches, holds, squeezes, and mashes food, the more they will get used to the smell and feel of food. This makes it more likely that they will bring the food to their mouth to eat. The more your child sees the whole food that they are being given, the more likely they are to later recognize what they taste as a food and determine that food as safe. Willingness to eat food depends on recognizing a food as “safe to eat” and learning the difference between nonfood and food items.
Language – Describe the food, taste, texture, smells
If your friend recommends you to a restaurant for the best burgers in town, you may want to try it based on their description of the environment, the way food is prepared, how it is cooked, and how the food tastes. Be careful not to pressure your child with words and language. Do not bribe, coax, or promise rewards for interacting with or eating foods. Also, do not scold or punish your child for not eating or trying new foods. Make mealtimes a happy environment and support your child. Include your child in shopping trips. Searching for food (fruits or vegetables) in the supermarket means that the toddler has to touch, smell, and look at the food. All these things will increase the willingness to try that food when they get home.
If you are concerned that your child's feeding, please give us a call. We offer free phone consultations to help determine if a feeding evaluation is appropriate for your child.
"Jessie is such a loving and caring therapist. Her passion for helping her patients and families show every visit. She is open to what works for each patient while being effective and productive. She is responsive and able to adapt to her patient's moods. Speech therapy has never been my son's favorite, and he has been to known to be a bit difficult, but it never slowed Jessie down. She was always so loving and made the sessions fun for him. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a great therapist." – Belinda