10 ways to improve your child’s eating patterns
3 April 2020
Tips for effective eating by Karin Dom specialists
Stefka Tsvetanova (psychologist) and Nikoleta Yoncheva (speech therapist)
In this article, our team shares ten strategies on how to improve your child’s eating habits or how to deal with some challenges associated with eating.
Although this article is published at a time of isolation and pandemic, the desire for good eating for our children is always relevant. Good eating means that the child feels good about the eating process, takes sufficient amounts and variety of foods and drinks, eats when hungry, and stops when sated.
However, before proceeding with the short effective strategies, it is important to mention some mistakes that parents may make in their desire to support their child’s nutrition.
We turn on the TV, put the smartphone in the child’s hands to distract him and put food in his mouth. This makes our task much easier – right ??? 🙂 There is one small detail – sometimes we do not realize the impact of this seemingly working solution, in the long run, on the psyche of our children. And here you will probably tell yourself, what does eating have to do with the child’s psyche? They have a lot in common.
Using a smartphone, though only during meals, leads to addiction. Some studies have shown that we can compare addiction to heroin, cocaine and other opiates with that of technical visual devices. The child is accustomed to this eating pattern, and in the future this will be the only way for him to take any food. This model is quickly entering other aspects of childhood and it is becoming increasingly difficult to take the child away from the device. At least not without prolonged negative reactions.
As a result of the so-called “distracted eating”, the child begins to eat either too much or too little, does not chew his food well, and thus may develop gastrointestinal disorders. Another aspect of the harm of this eating pattern is the lack of communication with the family. Often parents feed the child separately from others to make sure that the child is fed and thus make eating not a pleasure, but an annoying part of everyday life for everyone.
Here are the strategies:
- Reduce stress. Stress in our lives in general has a rather negative impact, but stress during eating is often the reason for refusal to eat or disturbing the process of eating altogether. Try not to focus on the food, the type and the amount your child is taking, and avoid commenting on it, as this could lead to frustration on both sides. Let’s eat together and make the mealtime enjoyable. Make a list of foods your child likes, and of foods he dislikes, favorite sauces, what taste he prefers – sweet, salty, sour. Try to have at least two favorite foods on the table while eating. Prepare the food with love and serve it with a smile. If you feel anxious, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, walk to the sink if necessary, pour yourself a glass of water and sit again.
- Build routines – eat at the same time every day. Depending on the age of the child, provide the required number of meals every 2-4 hours. Try building a meal routine with hand washing, sitting, serving, eating, putting dishes away and your favorite activity afterwards. It is important that the meal takes place with the family. The child copies adults while eating, the time spent with the whole family is pleasant, he sees that you eat the same food as him and is more inclined to experiment with tastes, and the routine makes him calm, knowing what to do next and helping him to learn, to understand everything new.
- Try to recognize the child’s hunger and satiety signals and teach him to understand and express them. Here are some tips for recognizing when your child is hungry – opens his mouth, leans body forward, reaches for the spoon, chews quickly and willingly, tries to speed up the eating process by reaching for his fork / spoon or helping himself with hands. When not hungry he pulls, turns away, spits on food, pushes it, gags, vomits, cries, gets out of his chair, etc. It is important to stop feeding your child when he is full, to say “end” together, for example. And similarly, when he is hungry, say “I’m hungry” or “Eat” depending on the age and understanding of the child.
- I am eating it because I don’t know what it is called – often children refuse to eat a food because they have decided they don’t like it. For example: I don’t want to eat these broccoli – they are too green; I do not eat onions; What is this red? I don’t want it, etc. Try not to explain to the child exactly what his chicken soup or cooked meal contains. If the child insists, however, tell him what is in there and show that you eat it. Over time, the child will try.
- Make the meal enjoyable – when the mealtime is pleasant, the family is together, then the child willingly joins the meal, tending to try new things. Each family has their own “rituals” at meal, so make your time together interesting and enjoyable according to your preferences and understanding.
- Help child get to know foods in their development and integrity. Let children know how fruits and vegetables grow and develop and how they reach our table. If possible, plant, care for and harvest the fruits and vegetables together, or simply comment on those in the fruit bowl. If this is not possible, at least shop and prepare the food with your child.
- Building sensory skills – it is important to give and motivate the child to play with the food, to touch it with his lips, to smell it, to get accustomed to the smell, color, consistency and, subsequently, the taste of the food.
- Avoid substitute eating – the use of fruit juices, milk shakes, fresh milk, yogurt and others satiate children and when the mealtime comes, they refuse it because their stomach is full, they have received the needed energy and their brain signals that they are not hungry. Keep in mind that this type of eating replenishes energy, but does not provide enough nutrients and often causes children to lose appetite.
- Stimulate oral-motor skills. This strategy is especially important for safety, building skills in the food intake process, starting from breastfeeding, complementary feeding, the gradual intake of a variety of different and consistent foods. Contact a speech therapist or pediatric gastroenterologist who can assist you if you feel that your child still does not have good sucking, drinking, chewing and biting skills. They will help you with evaluation, massages, explaining stages of receiving food. Remember that posture while eating is the first prerequisite for good eating habits.
- Build hygiene habits. In times of pandemic, hygiene is crucial. First of all, maintain your personal hygiene and thoroughly wash all the products you offer to your family. Clean the purchased products before placing them in the refrigerator or in the kitchen cabinet.
In addition to these strategies, you can make the time in the kitchen a fun adventure with your kids. In the book “Family Montessori Cooking. Cooking, having fun, learning.” you can find ideas for culinary tasks, that develop child’s fine motor skills and imagination.