Feeding babies and toddlers is a wonderful thing for a mom expressing her love.
I think we all have this conception of family time at the dinner table. We remember how much we treasured that time with our parents and siblings when we were children. What we forget is, that at times, we were perhaps not the best behaved.
Now that I’m a Mom of two boys—ages 4 years and 10 months—all I want to do is call up my mother and apologize for all those times (although I’m sure they were rare).
I don’t know what it is about mealtime but it will turn our sweet children into steely-eyed negotiators litigating every single bite. Or they turn into the captain of the drama club giving a spirited, emotional monologue on the existential crisis that broccoli represents.
My 4-year-old is both at times and getting him to try new foods or eat at a normal pace can be challenging even for an experienced feeding therapist like myself.
So I relate to all the Moms out there who are fighting the good fight every day. Holding the line is important and will set up good feeding habits for the rest of their childhood.
To help my fellow moms, I’ve compiled four key feeding tips and visual serving suggestions to make mealtime a bit more like the ones we fondly remember.
Feeding Babies and Toddlers Tip 1:
One Meal For Everyone
Once your baby reaches 6 months they can start eating solid foods. Most of their calories will still come from breast milk or formula, and purees are an option as well. But for dinner, I appreciate making a quick meal after a hard day at work and serving one meal to my husband, toddler, and baby.
It’s especially important for toddlers. They need to eat what you eat. Making them a separate meal of chicken fingers every night risks setting you up for a picky eater later.
That doesn’t mean you can’t include some of their favorites in the meal you’re making. As you can see in this meal I have ham steak heated on a frying pan, with the family favorite Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese and broccoli.
Our three-year-old loves this meal and gobbles this one up in lightning speed. Our 10-month baby also eats exactly the same thing. It couldn’t be easier!
When providing solid foods to babies, be sure to cut them up into very, very small pieces. Put them in the sides of the mouth so they can fish it with their tongue and direct it to the back of their mouth. It helps them develop their oral motor skills and mitigates the risk of choking.
Feeding Babies and Toddlers Tip 2:
Don’t Be Afraid of A Little Flavor or Spice
What do you do when the family orders take-out? Chicken fingers and mac for the kiddos? No way.
We ordered from our local Mexican food eatery the other night and everyone enjoyed the same meal – well except for the margaritas. That’s strictly me and my husband.
We ordered meats that the kids would enjoy and the baby could eat (love that shredded meat!) and the tacos were served family-style. Family style is one of the best ways to provide a low-pressure environment for kids to try new foods.
The adults enjoyed carnitas and rib-eye soft tacos with beans and street corn on the side.
Our three-year-old had the same meal. He asked for his corn to be cut off the cob (small modifications are fine!). He could have eaten just the cheese off the street corn and he was loving it.
The baby nine months at the time of this photo, had some carnitas, corn, and beans! It was all perfect for his chubby little fingers to pick up and he got to try some strong new flavors.
Don’t be afraid to let the baby try some different flavors or spices (within reason), it won’t give him indigestion. Just be careful to not provide foods with too much sodium.
Feeding Babies and Toddlers Tip 2:
Deploy Sauces and Anything Else that Might Make Different foods Easier for Kids to Try
Anyone else loves Trader Joe’s?
The heat-and-eat meals and pre-seasoned meats at TJ’s (as my mother-in-law so lovingly calls it) often get my family through the week. This week, I’ve “made” a cabernet pot roast.
This sounds way fancier than it really was on my part. TJ seasoned the meat, so I just opened the package and plopped it in a Pyrex. I put some potatoes and baby carrots around it (touch that easy button, pre-cut carrots!) and got that in the oven before my 4pm client arrived (yay, working from home!).
Our three year old covered his meat in ketchup, which will seem weird to adult pallets. While I preach against providing your kids with different meals, I am a big advocate of letting them put additives on whatever food your having. My three year old not only liberally uses ketchup, but ranch and Parmesan cheese as well.
The ten month baby ate everything we did, but diced.
Feeding Babies and Toddlers Tip 3:
Keep Pressure To Try Foods Low and Allow Some Modifications.
This week, Dad took his turn on the grill.
We had pork kabobs, grilled with red bell peppers, red onion, and pineapple. Tater tots on the side.
Our three-year-old had the same meal. He prefers raw bell peppers, so we allow this modification. And wouldn’t you know, he asked me this time to try one of my cooked peppers—on his own, independently, without me telling him to! I (gleefully) gave him one.
He liked it! After seeing this meal 10 or so times, he finally felt like he wanted to try something new. My feeding therapist’s heart was overjoyed. He also stuffed himself with tater tots.
Our baby (nine months at the time of this photo) also ate diced pork, grilled red peppers and pineapple, and tater tots. Only one tater tot because I’m careful on his sodium intake as babies’ kidneys are not yet ready to process too much salt!
While I don’t think I’ll be the next iron chef, I hope that some of these tips and meals inspire Moms to be creative with simple meals for the whole family!
If you find this article helpful, we have more informative tips about parenting toddlers and babies at the following links below.
Janine Segner, M.Ed., MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and owner of Expressive Speech and Feeding — a Reston / Herndon children’s speech and feeding therapy private practice. Janine has more than a decade of experience as a speech pathologist treating children across school, outpatient medical and private practice settings. She has been trained in PECS (picture exchange communication system), PROMPT (Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets), the Beckman Oral Motor Protocol, and the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) approach to feeding. She is most proud of being a mother of two boys.