Please think back to your own meal time experiences for a moment — when you were growing up, were you forced to clean your plate? Did your parents bribe you to eat your vegetables before you were able to have dessert? If you’re like many parents today, you want to give your baby the best nutritional start by by teaching her to choose healthy food options and listen to internal hunger cues. How, though, do you go about doing so?
One important aspect to keep in mind is that food is not a one-size-fits-all equation. Babies are born at different sizes and with different genetic make-ups. Some babies will grow faster than others, and this does not usually indicate that one baby is healthier than the next. You might even be surprised to learn that there is no specific amount of food that is considered essential for growth. Your baby’s nutritional needs will vary based on his or her age, activity level, and more.
If you want to raise healthy kids with good eating habits from the start, here are a few tips to keep in mind once you’ve transitioned your baby to solid foods:
1. Be flexible. At this young age, it is your job as parents to provide your baby with a variety of healthy, age appropriate foods in proper portion sizes in order to allow him to have say in what he eats. Selecting his own food from the choices you’ve given will teach him to learn internal hunger cues, therefore signaling when he’s full. This helps to prevent obesity and build healthy habits that he will carry throughout his lifetime.
2. Embrace the “no.” Did you know that babies often need to be offered a new food over ten times before they’ll eat it? When you offer a new food to your baby, remember that he or she will likely reject it. This is just part of the process of exploring new foods.
3. Don’t negotiate about food. Many of us were raised hearing the phrase, “If you take three more bites, you can have a cookie!” Though this seems to work in the short term, it is not a great habit to instill in the long run. You also don’t want this mindset carried over to other aspects of your baby’s life, such as the expectation of a reward for a completed task.
4. Don’t force your child to eat. It may be tempting, especially because she has only had three bites of her meal and now wants to play. Remember that the goal is to raise children who learn their own internal hunger cues, and forcing them to eat will not teach them to properly do so.
5. Turn off the electronics. Did you know studies have shown that watching TV during meals can often lead to overeating? If possible, try to ditch the TV or iPad while you’re eating so your baby can focus more on her meal, as well as her feelings of satiation.
Remember, meal times are a great opportunity to spend time together as a family and help foster relationships. Meal times can sometimes be stressful for new parents, too, because we are programmed to abide by the traditional guideline of three meals per day. Just remember that your baby is learning about and exploring her world, including her food options. Consider these five tips during your own family meal times to help instill healthy habits from the beginning.
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