Good eating habits, like a lot of other habits, is something that one must start working on when a child is still a baby. This post is a really practical post with practical advice on establishing good eating habits.
Routine is vital. Does that sound strange to you? But it shouldn’t. Eating is one of the most routine things we do. It is a healthy habit to always eat at the same time, and even more so when there are health issues. It contributes to the rhythm of the day. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.
Start while a baby
As I mentioned, this is a rhythm that should start while still a baby. Our son was a huge baby, nearly 10 pounds, who struggled to feed after birth. I wanted to demand feed because I read fanatically about it and that was what everyone advised. It did not work for us. After a few days home, he was dehydrated. The nurses in the maternity ward couldn’t help and the pediatrician wanted to insert a naso-gastric tube. I was desperate.
Then the midwife advised me to start feeding him on the clock. Whether he demanded it or not. I set my alarm for every 3 hours during the day and every four during the night. After one month it became every four hours during the day. That was the end of the dehydration. Night time feedings were later decreased to need only, but daytime eating stayed on the clock until he turned 2.
As the years went by that routine fell a bit by the wayside until some health issues shook me awake. We went back on the clock for a few months. Now that rhythm is well-established and the health issues are a thing of the past.
Don’t start with solids too early. 6 months is a good age to start. When starting with solids, follow the advice of the experts. Start with something soft and light like rice porridge and work your way slowly up from there. Don’t start with meat too soon (in fact, I wish I had delayed it until MUCH later).
When introducing new foods, rather prepare it yourself than buying already prepared food. I bought small bottles that could go into the freezer and just about everything went in there… even olives. This is one of my mom’s favorite memories of our son. When I prepared food later on he would come running for a taste of everything – raw! He would open his mouth like a little bird and I just had to pop it in. Even today when I make vegetable soup, he still does it. He tastes everything raw! He loved my food but detested anything that I bought.
What if you did not establish good eating habits when your children were babies? It is never too late to start. It might take a bit more effort but start today. Because next year is another year later.
Hunger and thirst
I appreciate what Charlotte Mason says about hunger and thirst. They should not rule our lives. Children should not constantly be ruled by a desire to eat or drink something. A good routine will help with that as well. Another thing that would help with this is a balanced diet.
There are very good websites to help with a well balanced diet. I like the one of the USDA, Choose My Plate. This is not only for babies but for people of all ages. They make it really easy for the whole family to follow a healthy diet.
But often when both parents are working, a good diet falls by the wayside. My mom always had this rule: one of each color. One red, one yellow or orange, one green, one white and one brown. This was for dinner and is still a good rule to follow today. Although, honestly I have to admit, I have offered tomato sauce as the red a few times!
Breakfast should be healthy and solid, but not too heavy for someone who has to concentrate during the course of the day. Concentration food includes things like fiber, fish, nuts, avocados and yes, chocolate. The mid-morning snack should also contain concentration food. Breakfast should be high in fiber and there should be fruit. Fruit juice is also good but never give a huge glass of fruit juice, half a glass or a full glass diluted with water is good. Remember, big glasses are only meant for water!
The mid-morning snack could be a sandwich and fruit with some protein. Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple. Or an apricot jam sandwich with cheese and an orange on the side. Nuts are also a great addition to the lunchbox.
Lunch can be a little larger if it cannot be the main meal of the day. Yogurt, fruit and a sandwich; an omelette with a glass of water. A tuna sandwich or a baked potato with cheese.
The mid-afternoon snack can be another fruit or some raw veggies. Most children enjoy a tomato or a carrot to chew on. Broccoli and cauliflower are also nice raw.
Then we are back to dinner. It is a pity that dinner is in the evening but for most people this is unavoidable. Try to make it as early as possible in the evening and at least two hours before bedtime.
No negative discussion at the table
Dinner should be a relaxed affair. Make a strict rule that no negative discussion is allowed at the table. This is not the time to ask how your teenager’s latest test went if you know it did not go well. Or to shout at the child that is not eating all their food. No negative discussion. At the table is key. Dinner should be a time where the whole family sits around the table and catch up with each other’s day. Sure, it might not always be possible for everyone to be there but if you are in the house, you eat dinner at the table with the rest of the family. If this is not possible for most of the week, you need to take another very good look at everyone’s program. Dinner should be a fond memory of laughter and conversation.
It is always good to go for a walk after dinner. Or some form of mild exercise to help with the digestion. It also provides some family time away from the television.
A few rules
- Fiber is better. Find clever ways of adding extra fiber like spinach or oat bran to your meals. It also lowers the glycemic index of food.
- Natural sugar over processed sugar. Don’t add sugar to things, whether food or drinks, to get children to eat or drink them. Children should anyway not be exposed to tea and coffee at too young an age. Give them water or milk.
- Natural and fresh is always better than processed.
- Cook or bake rather than fry.
So what about food struggles? There might be food allergies, intolerance or touch sensitivities. There is nothing like food to show up a person’s quirks! A lovely, friendly, quiet human being can turn into a monster at the table.
As far as food allergies or intolerance are concerned, they will show up in regular symptoms. For example a rash, diarrhea or often Upper Respiratory Tract Infections. There are ways to determine this. Read about this in Part 1 of our coming series on picky eating.
Probably the biggest challenge is the sensory defensive eater. This can be even more of a challenge to handle than allergies and intolerance. Read more about sensory defensive eaters and what to do about this sometimes traumatic issue in Part 2 of our coming series on picky eating.
The final issue with picky eaters is a thorny one and that is discipline. It is important that the first two are sorted out before you decide that it is an issue of discipline.
What are good eating habits that you have established in your house? I’d enjoy hearing from you.
Baby feeding image by Dirk (Beeki®) Schumacher from Pixabay First solids image by yalehealth from Pixabay Boy eating ice cream image by lisa runnels from Pixabay Family at the table image by skeeze from Pixabay Fresh vegetables image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay Crying child image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay