Sharing family meals frequently has been shown to support a healthier diet and lower the risk of toddlers and preschoolers being overweight. Many parents find eating together is great for family bonding, and provides a relaxed, fun opportunity to teach children about healthy eating habits and good table manners. Creating a comfortable mealtime routine for your baby will help them when they are expanding the number and variety of complementary foods they are eating.
It’s important that mealtimes are warm and pleasant experiences for your baby. Now is a great time to consider your feeding styles and practices to make sure you, and your family, are creating an environment that promotes and supports responsive feeding.
Dos and don’ts for simple, shared, stress-free meals
Do… make family meals a priority. Eat at a table and at the same times every day as much as possible, and encourage babysitters and other caregivers to do the same.
Don’t… let your baby miss an opportunity. Even if circumstances mean they have eaten already, seat them at the table and, if they shows signs of hunger, offer them a selection of finger foods so they are still involved in mealtime. Bite-sized pieces of soft fruit or well-cooked vegetables offer another opportunity to provide nutritious foods. If they are not hungry, don’t pressure them to eat. Let them sit at the table and watch the family eating healthy foods.
Do… make sure that your baby is sitting up comfortably and make mealtimes an inclusive, positive experience.
Don’t… put your baby in a position where they can’t see the rest of the family or their food.
Do… make sure your baby is able to see you and other family members model good eating behavior and table manners.
Don’t… eat your food quickly or distractedly.
Do… choose healthy foods for your baby and for the rest of the family.
Don’t… have unhealthy snacks, sugary drinks, or sweets on the table.
Do… interact with your baby and the rest of the family. Lively conversation, eye contact, and smiling between parents and little ones make the experience enjoyable for all of you.
Don’t… switch on the TV or have phones or other screens at the table.
What’s YOUR feeding personality?
Now that your baby has started to join in family mealtimes, it’s easy to fall into patterns of feeding that might not be ideal. A parent’s ‘feeding personality’ can be set early in their parenting journey, so it’s important to think as much about how a baby is offered food as what he is offered.
Scientific studies support the practice of responsive feeding. The parent decides what healthy foods are offered and when, and the baby decides if and how much they want to eat. In addition, the parent creates a nurturing, comfortable mealtime atmosphere for the family—positive and engaging, without any pressure to eat. Baby's hunger and fullness cues are respected.
Black MM, Aboud FE. Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. J Nutr 2011; 141(3): 490-4.
Dattilo AM Programming long-term health: Effect of parent feeding approaches on long-term diet and eating patterns. In: Early nutrition and long-term health, mechanisms, consequences and opportunities. Ed., Saavedra and Dattilo, Elsevier, 2017: 471-95.
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