Encouraging healthy eating habits

This is one of the main reasons that I wanted to explore baby-led weaning as a method of introducing Seth, and now Max, to solid food.

I have had an unhealthy relationship with food in the past, particularly in my teens and I am aware that as a parent, I have a responsibility to ensure that this is not something my boys have to grapple with. The principles of baby-led weaning feel like a natural way of helping my children to see food as a source of enjoyment; to see sharing a meal with family as much, much more than just a way to get calories in to the body.

I thought I would share some of my personal principles and guidelines for how I encourage the boys to develop their relationship with food and the logic behind them.

Please note that none of this is referenced with actual studies or science, it’s just our way of doing things!

I haven’t included letting your baby feed themselves because that IS baby-led weaning. Kinda goes without saying dontchathink?

Allow your child to set the pace

This is one of the other basic principles of baby-led weaning and it is really important to me. I never want the boys to feel as though they are being rushed in to finishing a meal. Sometimes, in the beginning, it takes For Ever and it can be a real test of your patience to sit there, after half an hour, watching your child splatter the floor with seven missed mouthfuls of porridge but this phase doesn’t last forever I promise. It’s particularly noticeable for me at the moment, being in the ‘beginners’ phase with Max and having Seth as a more advanced eater.

I don’t want to give the impression that I haven’t got time for them to nourish themselves. You’d hate to be rushed by a dining companion, wouldn’t you? It shouldn’t be any different for your children.

Eat together

I don’t just mean eat at the same time here. For us, it’s important that we eat the same meal as well as at the same time. Children learn from the examples we set them and they desperately want to copy us from an early age (just watching Seth try and steal my mascara every morning and apply it to his eyebrows is living proof of this). What better way to set out the eating habits you want them to adopt than to all sit down to a healthy meal together and make yummy noises as you eat your broccoli. It has the added benefit that you will eat healthier as well! We eat a reasonably varied diet, low in salt and added sugar, with lots of vegetables and fruit because that’s what we want the boys to eat. On the odd occasion we do eat different things, merry hell will usually break loose with Seth insisting that he wants what we’ve got on our plates, and that’s been from a young age, not just since he became verbal. It’s too easy to adapt your normal recipes to be child-friendly not to do this.

As for sitting down at the same time, I’m always amazed at the people I know who eat separately from their children. Firstly, what a giant pain to be clearing up dinner twice; secondly, what do you do with them whilst you’re eating? Occupy them with more food, tv, games? Or just eat when they’re in bed? How late do you eat? Thirdly, sharing a family meal is the highlight of my day. It’s an important way to take stock of that particular moment and reconnect as a family. No, sorry, I just don’t buy that children aren’t important enough to be included in that.

Don’t interfere

I think this is something we all do naturally and it’s a really hard instinct to suppress.

Yes, Max is trying to eat that pre-loaded spoonful of yoghurt with his ear. And…???? If you constantly try and remove it from his hand and do it for him, not only will he not learn but it might even damage his confidence. At 7 months old he probably won’t notice but it’s worth starting as you mean to go on. If I hadn’t, I’d still be correcting Seth now and the only message he’ll get is “you aren’t capable of this”. Leave them to it.

Don’t nag/cajole/manipulate

Manipulate sounds like a strong word but when you take stock of the way most of us are encouraged to parent, manipulation features pretty high. Most obvious forms of manipulation around food are to offer something sweet in return for eating something that’s being refused (yoghurt for sprouts etc) but I also see a lot of parents ‘hiding’ vegetables in their children’s food or sweetening things with honey. This is something I am absolutely dead against. If your child doesn’t want to eat something, then it’s fine. The more you try and persuade them, the less desirable it becomes and if you trick them in to eating it, well that’s just mean.

There are so many creative ways to get the right nutrients in to a child that it really isn’t necessary. Seth refused any green veg for at least five months. I continued to offer it at every meal (if it was on the menu) and if he left it on his tray then I didn’t make a big deal. I carried on eating it in front of him and that was as far as I was willing to go in my efforts to get him to eat it. The last thing I wanted to do was shine a great big spotlight on broccoli, peas, beans and everything else green. I would make us green smoothies (spinach, kale and banana) but he knew what was going in to them, I happen to love them myself and still make them regardless of how much veg he’s eaten so I don’t count it as cheating. For the record, he will now steal broccoli off of your plate if you don’t guard it with your life so I consider my technique a success.

They are my main sticking points. Can you tell I feel passionately about them?! One of my main mantras when it comes to parenting is to ‘pick your battles’. Food is my main parenting battle which makes it sound like I’m waging war against my children but that’s not the case. Meal times are incredibly relaxed at our house, exactly the way I want them to be but the battle sometimes comes with how other people think my children should eat. I’ve had suggestions from people to sweeten Seth’s porridge with honey if he’s refusing it and I’ve seen relatives try and cajole the boys in to eating a particular piece of food – all these kind of things are met with icy glares and a firm but polite ‘please don’t do that’. It’s not something I’m prepared to compromise on.

I would love to hear how you work to create a healthy relationship with food with your children!


About Kelly

Gently stay-at-home mum of two boys.
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