12 Tips to Promote Positive Mealtime Experiences

Consider these strategies to create positive experiences during eating and mealtimes.

1) Feed your child when he or she is hungry

Watch and listen for cues that your little one is hungry, and feed him or her as soon as possible. Before becoming so hungry that they cry. infants often show that they are ready to be fed by opening their mouths, making sucking sounds, and moving their hands randomly.

2) Always hold your little one when feeding him or her a bottle

Sit in a comfortable chair and snuggle with the baby. Even when your child can hold the bottle independently, he or she still wants to be held to enjoy your special time together.

3) Avoid propping up bottles

Propping a bottle of milk or juice can lead to ear infections, choking, and bottle-mouth, a severe form of tooth decay that may cause tooth loss.

4) Pause to burp your little one

Stop every 3-5 minutes or when your young infant has consumed 2-3 ounces of formula or breast milk. This rest lets your little one slow down and prevents them from swallowing too much air. If your child doesn’t burp, put them in an upright position for 15 minutes after the feeding to help prevent spitting up.

5) Keep waiting times for your young child as brief as possible

Have the food ready when your child is seated at the table. Be sure to have everything you need, including food, beverages, dishes, and spoons. You do not want to leave the table to look for missing items.

6) Create a calm and pleasant atmosphere

Transitions that help set a relaxed tone include reading a book together or doing another quiet activity. Allow enough time for a leisurely meal.

7) Encourage relaxed, friendly conversation

Talk together during mealtimes about familiar topics of interest to your child. The more words your little one hears now, the stronger their vocabulary will be later. Describe the taste, texture, and smell of the food while your young child eats. Talk about activities you did earlier in the day, and your plans for the afternoon. Encourage your child to let you know what they want and need during mealtimes.

Try to avoid struggling over food.

8) Avoid struggling over food

Encourage your little one to try new foods, but do not force them to eat something they don’t want. Talk about new foods, serve them in attractive ways, and taste everything yourself. Sometimes, toddlers eat just one or two foods for a period of time. By offering nutritious choices, your child gets the necessary nutrients over the course of a week or a month, even if not at every meal.

Note that your little one may reject a new food many times before ultimately trying it, so don’t give up after a few attempts.

9) Allow your child to control the quantity of food he or she eats

Don’t expect your little one to eat everything on their plate. You might even involve your child in setting the portion size. Also, never use food as a reward or punishment.

Promote your child’s growing independence.

10) Promote your child’s growing independence during snack and mealtimes

Encourage your little one to participate in whatever ways are appropriate for their level of development. For example, give an 8-month-old child a chance to use their fingers to self-feed. Provide an easy-to-hold spoon to a toddler. Invite a 2-year-old to help you set the table and do other mealtime tasks.

11) Offer experiences that encourage your child to practice mealtime skills throughout the day

Consider including plates and eating utensils in a pretend play area so your little one can act out mealtime events. Provide small pitchers and cups for water play. And, involve your child in cooking experiences, such as making play dough or cloud dough. You might even read to your little one such books as “Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli” by Barbara Jean Hicks, or “Gregory, the Terrible Eater” by Mitchell Sharmat.

Recognize your child’s new skills.

12) Recognize your child’s new skills and accomplishments

Make a positive comment when your little one first learns to hold a bottle, drink from a cup, or spread cottage cheese on a cracker. Acknowledging your child’s competence encourages them to practice learned skills and attempt new ones.