Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Pleasant mealtime experiences for children and the whole family, can sometimes be a challenge. The following tips may help take a "bite" out of stressful mealtimes.
Meal Preparation Involvement: Allowing your child to take part in meal preparation can help increase your child's interest in a new or unfamiliar food. When children take part they have "ownership" in the experience.
Include Preferred Foods: Routinely offer a choice of foods. Provide at least one food that you know your child will select and eat. Then they are more likely to make other choices as well.
Vary Colors and Textures: This will create interest and increase the number of foods your child will accept and try. Eat the rainbow!
Portion Sizes in Proportion: One way to consider portion sizes is to have one tablespoon of each type of food for each year of the child's age up to an adult recommended portion. Portion control is challenging for adults as well - usually they are too large. Pay attention to the recommended serving sizes. During growth spurts, especially preteen and teen years, children may want or even need that second helping. Be aware of physical development changes that can effect portions.
Food Safety: Consider choking hazards and prepare foods bite-sized. Depending on the age of the child you may need to mash or crush foods, cut solid foods into sizes that encourage chewing. Cooling hot foods for young children is appropriate. Understanding what to look for in allergic reactions - especially important when introducing new foods.
Table Manners: Make sure your expectations at the table are age appropriate. Let a child be a child, but also consider the progressive development of table manners and expectations for mealtime behaviors. Children are always learning from your table manners, so consider what you are modeling. Eating with children is extremely helpful in demonstrating manners as well as good eating habits.
Eating Environment: Comfort is important at mealtime. Select chairs, tables, dishes and silverware suitable in structure and size for the child. These considerations can also aid in the child’s manners while at the table. Along with environment comes allowing for enough time for a meal. Mealtime can be more than just eating, it can also be a family or child/adult time. Feeling rushed can cause issues for children in behavior and food intake. Nurture relaxed meals that are enjoyable for everyone.
Meals and Snacks Best if Scheduled: A dependable schedule is helpful for everyone. Try to schedule meals before your child becomes overly hungry, tired or irritable. Most children require planned nutritious snacks to safeguard an adequate intake of nutrients and calories. When traveling with children or fitting in meals on those days you have a planned outing try to stick as closely as possible with the regular meal and snack routines. It really helps everyone enjoy the experience.
Changes in Eating Routine: Remain calm if your child leaves a portion or an entire meal untouched. Growth spurts or lulls can make a big difference in appetite. Having reasonable exceptions and being calm with the ups and downs of children’s appetites can help with mealtime experiences. Be consistent with offering a variety of healthy meals and snacks throughout the day.
Hydration: All of us need appropriate hydration throughout the day. Water is the best source and one that I encourage. Other beverages are offered during mealtime, but typically between meals it's water. If you or a child is feeling thursty then you are actually hydration deficient. So encouraging water breaks, especially during warm months, is highly recommended. Children will build on the habits you've established with them.
Mealtime is a good time to teach nutrition by example. This can also be a great time for connecting with children, for family or nanny/child time. Good eating habits that preschoolers learn from their parents, nannies or other adults can develop into lifelong patterns.