Crucial Moments: Cultivating Healthy Eaters Begins in the Highchair
BY Jill Castle
Healthy attitudes and feeding practices begin when your child is an infant. How you feed your baby, particularly in the highchair, can set the tone for a future of positive attitudes toward feeding and eating. Or, it can lay the foundation for a lifetime of feeding struggles, picky eating, and poor nutrition.
How you feed your baby involves connecting with your child, interpreting your child's feeding cues, and responding to your child's pace of eating and desire to explore food. The interaction between the parent and child, particularly at this young age, is very intimate and lays the groundwork for a trusting relationship. Feeding your baby in the first year of life is just that—full of firsts. It is an exciting and fun time to be a parent and to be a child. Each meal and each day have the potential for adventure, exploration, and satisfaction!
Here are ways to connect with and respond to your child in the highchair:
- Enjoy your baby and the process of feeding him. A baby will reflect your positive attitude!
- Look at your child while you feed her. Show her that she has your attention. Distractions or multi-tasking impairs the connection and relationship you can be building with your baby.
- Let your baby eat as fast or as slowly as he wants to. Don't shovel food into his mouth, rather, let him set the pace. Encourage your child to enjoy food and the process of eating.
- Talk to your baby in a conversational tone; don't be too excited or entertaining or your baby may get distracted from eating and/or expect to be entertained at each meal.
- Let your baby touch the food; this is a natural way to learn about food. Getting messy is part of the process. As your baby grows and becomes more independent with feeding, it will be critical to allow him to self-feed with fingers and hands, and eventually age-appropriate utensils and dinner-ware. A messy prospect, indeed, but essential to feeding skill development.
- Stop feeding your baby when she shows you she is done. Cues for this include leaning back, pushing the spoon or bowl away, turning her head away, pursing her lips, and looking bored. Honor and respect your baby's signals around feeding and eating.
- Don't make your baby fuss to get your attention; he will learn to trust and feel secure in his communications with you and the feeding process if you attend to his needs.
- Children thrive on schedules, routine, predictability, and reliability. As the adult and parent, optimizing the feeding environment in this way will allow your child to be relaxed about food and feeding.
Developing a secure and trusting relationship with your child around feeding will promote a positive relationship with food and eating. Make the most of these crucial moments and you will begin to develop the foundation of healthy eating attitudes and habits in your child.
About the Author:
Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Pediatric Nutrition Specialist. She is the owner of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills, LLC, a practice devoted to the nutritional needs of infants, children, and teens. With 20 years of experience in the field of pediatric nutrition, and four children of her own, Jill melds her nutrition science background with the practicality of raising children, to offer her clients evidence-based nutrition information in a practical and applicable format. For more information about Jill and Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills, visit www.pediatricnutritionofgreenhills.com.