How you feed your child differs from one developmental stage to the next. Initially you feed from the breast or from a bottle, holding your infant close to you. Their task is to suck, swallow and breathe whilst you support their body in your arms. Once they start solids, they are ready to sit supported in a high chair. They learn to recognise the spoon and open their mouth appropriately. Once they are ready to share family meals, they will be sitting at the ‘big’ table either in a high chair or on a booster seat.
Once they reach toddlerhood, things change. They no longer eat everything you offer them! Developmentally, they have gone from being totally dependent on you for all their needs to starting to become a separate human being and wanting more control and independence in their life. That is, when it suits them. They might still want to be fed when they are capable of feeding themselves or want to eat ‘baby’ food at the age of three. On the other hand, they may not want you to put the food on their plate, preferring to take control of what goes on their plate and into their mouth. So here’s your chance to reduce the stress at mealtimes.
Serving food ‘family style’ – putting the food in the middle of the table – and letting each person choose what to put on their own plate, gives children the control to decide what to eat from what you have offered. As a client once said, serve every meal ‘taco style’.
Make sure there is one food on the table that you know your child will eat if they are hungry. This could be bread, pasta, rice or potato. For example, if you know she doesn’t like rice and it’s on the menu, then put out some bread as well. This way, you avoid the plate being immediately pushed away, food rejected and taken (or thrown) off the plate. You are honouring your child’s developmental stage of separation and individuation. It will take another 15 to 20 years for complete control, but we need to start with small steps that are age-appropriate and make family meals pleasant.