Monday, May 20, 2013

Common Mistakes Parents Make: How to Start Good Eating Habits







For many parents feeding their kids is a bit overwhelming, especially in the beginning.  It's really straight forward when they are babies, right?  Milk, then baby food.  Simple. Things start to get a little tricky when real food is introduced and the bottles and baby food are weened away.  Those babes turn into toddlers and the eating transition can be challenging.  I'm not just talking about how to get them to start eating table foods, I've already covered that in another post (How to Transition Your Baby to Table Food).  It's all the other things that come along with this transition like when, what, and where to feed them.... when and how do they feed themselves... how long should they sit in a high chair... etc.  Okay, if you weren't overwhelmed already, I am probably overwhelming you now!  Obviously, I am going to walk you through the most common mistakes parents seem to make and how you can avoid them to get your kid's eating started with a good foundation.  They are mostly simple things that the Pediatrician doesn't have time to tell you or may not even know.  





Staying on Baby Food Too Long

Going to get this one out of the way first. Generally speaking babies should be starting to eat table foods around 8-9 months and should be done eating baby food by their first birthday. Of course there are exceptions to this, especially if your child has developmental delays.  Each child is an individual and I do want you to follow their lead, BUT often I see parents sticking with baby food way too long because it is easier or THEY are uncomfortable exposing their child to more table foods.  You may think, where is the harm in it? Although most kids will move onto table foods fairly easily, some can get stuck in a rut and refuse table foods if they are kept on baby food for too long.  If you need more help with this transition check out part one and two of How to Transition Your Baby to Table Food.  

Abandoning the High Chair

I know the big high chairs can be cumbersome in kitchens and the trays are annoying to keep cleaning, but these seats and their ability to confine, ahem, I mean keep you child safe are the best bet for a while.  Babies have learned to associate eating with this chair and toddlers are notoriously distracted.  If you try to have them eat at their own little table or at a big table before the age of 2.5 you are most likely going to be in a constant struggle just to keep them sitting at the table and their eating habits will surely suffer.  There is nothing wrong with keeping your kid in a high chair or booster seat with a strap until they are 3.  If you never stray from this they won't ever know the difference, sitting in a high chair or booster is all they have ever know.  Once you let them kneel on a big chair or don't strap them into the booster, it could be very difficult to return to the original set up.

Once you do move to strap-free eating situation, lay the ground rules quickly about staying seated. If you child insists on getting down, meal time is over for them. Make sure they understand this and follow through. Click here for more info on setting up a schedule and spacing meals apart.

Constant Snacking

I have to admit, this is probably my biggest pet peeve and the most prevalent error parents make. (Warning: stepping onto my soap box)  Somehow our culture has evolved to constantly feeding our kids, most of the time we do this to pacify them. We hand them crackers or cookies in grocery stores, doctors offices, cars, parties, and even church to keep them quiet.  It doesn't always stop there, in the beginning it can be hard to find a schedule for eating that works and leaving food out all the time can seem logical, or meal times become stressful and schedules are abandoned because it seems easier.  It may be easier in the short term, but in the long run it will become more difficult to get good eating habits established. When kids are given snacks endlessly, the message sent is that we don't need to sit and eat together (yes, even if it is just a snack) and that we can eat whenever we want.  I think it is important to teach kids to respect meal time in its own right so they can develop healthy eating habits for life.  Constant snacking totally defeats this, and as I have discussed previously, snacking usually ruins their appetite.  

In my day job (as an occupational therapist), I see huge changes in a child's eating when the family moves to structured, spaced out meals. At home, I also see a dramatic difference in my kid's eating when they have snacked too frequently.  

Toys at the Table

No toys at the table might seem obvious to some of you, especially parents with babies that aren't really trying to pull this stunt yet. I assure you there will be a day when your toddler is insistent and will ultimately throw a tantrum just to have the truck or doll at the table with them.  In the moment, it is very easy to give in because you are exhausted and don't have the battle in you.  However, this is a battle worth fighting, even though that toy may be keeping them in their chair it will mostly distract them from actually eating. Sometimes it helps to place the toy in a spot where a child can see it (sometimes that makes it worse!). Either way, once your kiddo knows that you mean business about no toys coming to the table, they will stop trying.  

*If your child is receiving feeding therapy, some therapeutic strategies employ the use of toys at meals.

Eating Alone

Eat with your kids, often when we start babes out on baby food they are on their own schedule and we focus just on feeding them at their own meal time.  This should be short lived, if ever a scenario at all.  If possible it is a great habit and benefit to the baby to eat meals together.  As they start to eat multiple times a day and begin table foods, try to find a way to have your eating schedules coincide.  Serving your kids solo means them missing out on a variety of social interactions, as well as the powerful tool of modeling.  These mini-me's just want to emulate us, and while we all know that they observe everything that we are doing, we often forget to apply that to eating. They notice that the broccoli is on our plate and what we like to eat.  Not to oversimplify, but If your kid never sees you eating the broccoli, they might not eat it either.  

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Please don't fret if you have already begun some of these habits, my hope is that this information will empower you to make some changes that will lay the groundwork for good eating habits throughout your child's life.  Although it may take a little more time to undo some of what I discussed here, you can get back on track by slowly making changes.  Pick one thing to focus on at a time and be patient!

If your looking for more help on establishing good eating habits click here, here, and here. Follow me on facebook for quick tips and ideas.  

As always, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment, let me know what you're thinking or any questions you may have.










30 comments:

  1. Love this! I am also an occupational therapist working in early intervention and this hit the nail in the head for so many issues I have working with my families! Especially the extended baby food issue

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    1. Thank you! It is wonderful to hear from another OT, as I really value your opinion!

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  2. Great article!! We're always working at establishing good eating habits around here and I think we've been able to avoid these bad habits. Thankfully our kids are (pretty) good eaters, but it's always a temptation to give in and avoid the battle! I shared this on my blog's Facebook page today:

    https://www.facebook.com/themeasuredmom

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    1. That's great! I hear you- I am often tempted to give in at times too! Thank you so much for the share!

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  3. Okay, we definitely need to work on a few of these issues-specifically the constant snacking. My 2.5yo is a grazer. She's also quite small and in general not a good eater (picky, and seemingly exists on air alone some days). So, when she does ask for a snack, I often don't want to deny her the opportunity to get calories in her. How do you recommend breaking the habit with a kiddo who prefers snacks over meals? And also, in regards to the eating alone rule, I will usually sit down with her to eat, but she can spend 45 minutes at the breakfast table and I don't have that kind of time in the morning. So, after about 5-10 minutes, I get up to clean up/makes lunch/etc. Does this still count as eating together?

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    1. Great questions, Heather. First, I know it is unrealistic to eat every meal with your child for the entirety of the meal. Do the best you can, and try to make at least one meal a day the priority. As for the snacking, yes, it is a hard habit to break, but you can do it slowly. It doesn't have to be a cold turkey kind of thing. You want to space meals 2.5-3 hrs apart from the start of one meal to the start of the next. Start slowly, try to hold off snacking for an hour, then 1.5 hours and so on. Tell her if she asks to eat that it isn't time and that lunch or whatever meal/snack will be soon. I know that is scary, but you will soon see her starting to eat more when she does sit down to eat!

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    2. Thank you for the reply. I like the idea of slowly holding off snacking instead of cutting it out cold turkey because I know there are going to be some BIG feelings that come out when she can't just snack all day. I will try this.. thanks again!

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  4. I love the article. The problem we have is eating together which I'm sure is difficult for many. Little man goes to bed at 7pm (before my husband is home) so eating dinner together rarely occurs. I sit with him while he eats dinner but most of the time he is eating at 5-5:30 and if I ate that would leave my husband to eat alone. Should I be concerned that he is eating most dinners alone at 1 1/2yrs or should I not worry since as he grows his bedtime will be later so that we can eat as a family. Thankfully I made all of his food and normally pureed/chopped up leftovers so he eats anything and everything. Olives being his food of choice right now :)

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    1. Mary, it sounds like you guys are off to a great start- I definitely don't want to stress you out about what is working for your family! I think that it will evolve over time and when you can I would try to steer it in the direction of eating together. For now, try to eat whatever meals you can together, especially on the weekends or maybe breakfasts? Maybe a couple times a week, eat a small dinner with each of your guys!

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  5. I made your first three mistakes when I was a new mom - wish I had read your article back then! Great tips!

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    1. Thanks Maryanne, so glad you stopped by!

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  6. Ties in with another poster. Our preemie 7.5 month old basically never eats with us. Weekdays she has early morning (7 am) and night (7 pm) bottles at home but breakfast (9 am) lunch (12:30 pm) and dinner (4:30 pm) when she has bottle and puree is at daycare. Should we be concerned that she eats occasionally only with me on Saturdays and with both of us on Sundays?

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    1. It is okay while they are this young, it can be really hard to make the schedules coincide. However, over the next few months I would strive to eat together as often as possible, especially once she is starting the transition to table foods. Once they are a year old it would be ideal (I know not always possible) to be eating most of your meals together.

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    2. Thanks Alisha! She is just over 6 months adjusted and delayed in gross motor although otherwise healthy so sometimes it's hard to know what age guideline we should follow at what time. She has a significant tongue thrust since she came home from NICU and we are (still) in line to see an SLP to try to fix that before we go to table food. Love your blog!

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    3. Thank you! You said the key word, "guidelines", they are just that. Generally, speaking use her adjusted age as a "guideline", knowing that there is a lot of room for variability. Sounds like she is doing great, especially having a proactive momma like you! Let me know if I can be of any more help in the future.

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  7. Thank you so much for your blog. I'm having some feeding issues and I wondered if you had any insight. I'm the nanny to a 12 month old boy. I try to do the positive things you suggest, such as having a routine and schedule, limiting snacking, eating in a high chair with no toys, etc. He never eats with his parents, and dinner isn't something I can control since I'm typically off work by then, but I do try to sit down and eat my lunch while he eats his.
    I don't know what I can do to work on his feeding issues. It's not that he has issues with specific types of food, it's that he will refuse food that he likes. Just three days ago I cut up a kiwi for him and he devoured it. Today I did the exact same thing and he wouldn't touch it. Muffin, same. I try to have patience, but he will refuse food after food that I know he likes until I run out of options. His mom just gives in and gives him cheerios. The one thing that he seldom refuses is yogurt, so today I did what I normally do to get the fruit into him, and put a small piece of kiwi in each bite of yogurt. After several bites like this he would accept just the plain kiwi on the spoon no problem, but still wouldn't eat it himself.

    After reading your "no force feeding rule" I've resolved not to do it anymore (I really already knew I shouldn't do it, but it's just so difficult!), but in the past when he would refuse to touch food that I knew he liked, I would stick a piece in his mouth a few times, and once he realized what it was he would usually go ahead and start eating it. I try to have his preferred foods at meals when offering new things, but he refuses food he loves so often that I don't know what his preferred foods are!

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    1. What a wonderful nanny you are to be seeking out help! I'm sorry my response is so late! This is a tricky situation because your not the parent. I would really make sure that you aren't allowing any snacking at all- he needs to be hungry. Also, nothing but water in between his meals, that can fill him up to. Does he like messy play?

      I would offer 3-5 foods at a meal. If he doesn't eat then I would let him get out and try again at the next meal. But, before you get to that point, play with the food a little, be real silly and see if you can get him to imitate. I have lots of articles on picky eaters that may be helpful, check the article index in the menu bar! Let me know how it goes!

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  8. The one about eating WITH your children, is I think the most effective. We eat with our kids, and while they don't always eat much, they gladly eat everything they see us eating - well, with the exception of beans! Kids are natural copycats, give them a good example to follow.

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    1. That's awesome! That is probably the most difficult for some families, but once you get into the habit it is a way of life.

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  9. what if my little boy doesnt eat anything i serve him, that made me stick with baby food uptill he was about 17 months, he would never sit down with us, he is very active and can't stay still. he is 23 months now, hates milk and most dairy food, doenst like the texture of anything I give him although Iv tried everything around about 8 months but always had an alternative due to fear of starving him...any advice? Thanks

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    1. I would start slowly with the above steps. I would also recommend getting a feeding a eval or setting up a consult to help you determine what the underlying issues are. Also, peruse the article index, look for exploring food and expanding variety articles. Please let me know if I can be more help.

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  10. Do you have any advice on weaning night feedings? I nurse our 13 month old before she goes down at night, and then she usually wakes once in the middle of the night for another nursing session. She seems to be truly hungry, and not just nursing for comfort. We've been trying to get as much food into her during the day as possible so that she won't wake hungry in the middle of the night, but that means doing whatever it takes to get her to eat, breaking some of the rules you have here. We fear that if she doesn't eat much during the day, she'll wake up multiple times :(.

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    1. First, only you can decide what works for your family and that may mean bending the rules a little here and there. I would encourage you to not get "stuck" feeding in between meals, etc. Always try to be moving toward following the points I talked about. I know when they are this little it may seem like it isn't a big deal, but it is. Allowing them to eat in between meals really will make them eat less overall. I would also try a snack right before bed, maybe a nutritious smoothie to fill up her belly? Sometimes you just have to take the leap and keep your fingers crossed as you sleep, she might surprise you (assuming she ate well that day).

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  11. My baby girl is 11 months old. She is very active and cannot sit still. I need to distract her with toys or some cartoons to watch on in order to feed her, else she will refuse to open her mouth and crying loud to get off the highchair.

    Is that fine if I let her continue watching the cartoons which I feed her? She will only eat in that way.

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    1. I would avoid it if you can- try to wean her away from it. If you haven't already read my eating basics in the menu bar, I would recommend it. Make sure you are following most of those strategies- especially spacing meals apart, she may not be hungry enough. Ideally, we want kids to eat without distractions but do you best and take baby steps to move away from it. Good luck!

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  12. I feel like I'm guilty of several of these items on the list. My husband and I both work full-time and I have an 8 y/o step-son who is with us full-time. Because my husband has a long commute and is gone before breakfast and home just before my 1 y/o's bedtime, I often times feed him dinner alone while I make dinner for the rest of us and then the three of us eat after he is in bed at 6:30/7. I've been having trouble getting him to eat any finger foods that aren't bread, crackers, or fruit, so I've been giving him squeeze packs as a way to get veggies in him. What is your take on those? Is it basically the same as continuing baby food? I also just read your article on transitioning from the bottle and now I'm thinking I've been giving him too many fluids between meals as well and perhaps this is why he is also starting to refuse foods he has liked in the past and throws most things off his high chair tray?

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    1. Oh Sara, I don't want you to feel guilty. Everyone's circumstances are different and sometimes you have have to make the best of difficult schedules. I would say to keep doing what you are doing, fitting in family meals when you can.

      I don't love the squeeze pouches but they do have their place. I would try not to rely on them too heavily. I would really space the meals as I suggested, that can make a huge difference. Also, see how to transition to table foods under the popular posts in the side bar or under the article index in menu bar. Let me know if you need more help!

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    2. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! I've cut back on the milk bottles and only send one squeeze pack to daycare now instead of two and I've already seen an improvement, and so have they. Next step will be to cut that one out too and just use them for when we are on the go....they are so convenient! :) Your blog has been so informative for me, thank you!

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