– No stress enjoyment is the name of the game. Eating with fingers and experiencing the sensory nature of eating is usually lots of fun for babies and toddlers. A tray that attaches to the table can allow food to be spread out without worries of bowls being tossed.
– Bring your baby to the table. A high chair that pushes right up to the table (there are many on the market now) or a booster seat for older toddlers allows young children to eat right at the table with the family. Eating together fosters stimulation, bonding, developmental gain, and overall mental and physical health for children and adults of all ages.
– Choose meals that everyone can eat. Serving young children the same meal as the rest of the family (age appropriate) is a great way to include them and also sets up good eating habits. I often will set aside a portion of what I am cooking before adding spices and seasoning, and puree or mash it with butter. Yum!
– Avoid battles over food. Teaching children to eat as much as feels right to their body can empower them to listen to their bodies and set up a healthy attitude towards food early on. The approach of: “Feel free to eat as much as you need to last you until breakfast” is one way to go if no snacking after dinner is the desired behavior. Another approach that we use in our family is eating until satisfied, with fresh fruit or veggie options (apple, carrot sticks, cucumber, banana) for those times my daughter is hungry later on. We have taught our daughter to pay attention to how any food choice will feel in her body later on.
– Share responsibilities. Even new walkers can get involved by carrying over their sippy cup, later helping with meal prep and carrying plates. Simple instructions shown and told, such as how to hold the edges of the plate with both hands or put the placemats away gets little ones involved and can create confidence and pride.
– Play music, dim lights, and use candles at dinner time. Research has shown that classical music stimulates brain development in children. Even plants grow towards classical music. I grew up with opera, classical and all sorts of other music in the house and the memory of music playing in the evening brings back warm feelings still. Soft music in the background can relax, stimulate and inspire a positive dinner environment. Candlelight is also wonderful ambiance when supervised, or some good battery operated tea lights are a close second, eco friendly, and can stay on unsupervised!