Eat Your Peas! (How to encourage good behaviour with eating)

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

In the first year babies learn about food, eating attitudes, variety and texture. After they turn one they continue to learn more about polite table manners such as using cutlery.

It is important to integrate babies into mealtimes as soon as possible so they learn the benefits of sitting at a table for a while, talking together and eating together. To begin with they can simply lie on the table on a blanket surrounded by cushions, on a u-cushion or on a bouncer, if a mealtime occurs when they are awake for a bit before napping again. After they begin to sit up slightly they can sit in a high chair and play with a few toys while you eat. As soon as they are ready to eat after 17 weeks they can begin to join you in eating. Read my upcoming blog on weaning to find out what foods to feed your baby and when.

As soon as baby starts to eat food your reaction should be positive but not overpowering. You don’t need to say, “Well done you have eaten a lot!” as that is focusing on quantity and making baby think you only want her to eat lots. Instead focus on quality – “that was a delicious meal and you have had enough I think”

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Whoever is feeding baby should just monitor that they eat until they have had enough, you do not need to play games or be fun to make them eat their meal or finish their bowl “just one more spoonful!” is teaching them to eat past they’re full and ignore their bodies natural instincts. Eating together is a natural and positive way to encourage baby to eat, they feel included and often imitate what you are doing. If baby eats on their own parents often end up sitting there staring at baby with a spoonful of food in their face, wondering why they are not eating. It is much better to share a meal and feed baby in between your own forkfuls.

It is best to never say 'no' to messy behaviour when eating. Part of learning how to eat is being messy and playing with food, as long as they are eating as well. If you think they are making a mess on purpose say "food goes on the table" or "food goes on the plate and in our mouths" (while pointing to where you want it to go). If they continue to make a mess and there is more playing than eating, now it is time to remove everything and say, "What a lovely meal that was tasty!" If you choose to shout angrily or say "Nooo" loudly just before they are about to drop their spoon or meal, that becomes a fun game for them. Children love watching adults get annoyed and will then repeat that behaviour.

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At about 1 years old and over children's appetite decreases as they are not growing as much. Often parents try to make them eat as much as they did before, this can cause friction, negative views of food and big dramas. It is not necessary to make them eat what you think they need in that meal. Instead reflect on what they have eaten over the past week and usually parents realise that children naturally choose a balanced diet over time.

Meal times should become a positive and happy place, a time for the family to be together, eat together and talk together. Toddlers should be able to control what they eat if it is part of the options that you have cooked for the family. It is a dangerous route to take if you make them something else, if they don't like your meal. This can lead to constant demands for their own food. They can survive on a small amount when its not their favourite food and can always fill up on healthy foods such as banana and yogurt for pudding.

family eating together, antenatal advice, Swaddling To Toddling

Children need to learn that mealtimes are positive, that they can eat however much they need to be full and that is enough. Most importantly eating together and watching you eat is the best teaching tool of all. Try not to pop up and tidy the kitchen or do the washing up. Lack of attention in toddlers often leads to misbehaviour as they become bored and lonely eating on their own.

Eating together releases natural endorphins in the brain and makes you feel good, try and adapt your timetable for the couple of years your children need to eat earlier than usual and enjoy the time together before they become independent teenagers.

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