How to Help Your Baby Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food for Life Day 3: How to Help Your Baby Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food for Life

How to Help Your Baby Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food for Life

Being a parent is rewarding. There are countless moments of joy and equally countless moments of doubt!

We live in a world where processed foods, added sugars, and preservatives are everywhere and cleverly disguised. So it's natural to wonder how you can help your baby build healthy eating habits. Today, we understand what a healthy relationship with food looks like and how to guide your baby to have one!

What Does an Unhealthy Relationship with Food Look Like?

An unhealthy relationship with food may involve behaviors such as eating when not hungry, using food to cope with negative emotions, binge eating, a lack of control over portion sizes, and feelings of guilt and shame, especially in terms of weight management. Over a period of time if left unchecked, these behaviors can lead to eating disorders.

What Does a Healthy Relationship with Food Look Like?

When we have a healthy relationship with food, we are able to choose to eat or not eat food in a balanced and responsible way. We are able to listen to our bodies, our physical and emotional needs. We eat to honor our body’s hunger and fullness cues. There is no judgment, shame, guilt, or fear with regard to food. 

The Major Role That Childhood Experiences Play

Many of our food-related experiences are shaped in childhood. Positive or negative associations with food can influence our mindset, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors as we grow. As parents, we may recall moments from our own childhood, such as being coerced to eat when not hungry or force-fed. These early experiences can create lasting aversions to certain foods or to even “eating” itself.

On the other hand, positive food associations can stem from family traditions, celebrations, and memorable meals with loved ones. These positive or negative experiences contribute to our overall relationship with food, which we pass on to our children.

Nurturing Babies to Create a Positive Relationship with Food: Tips for Parents

1) Cook and prepare food together: Get your child involved in the kitchen or in grocery shopping. Young children are naturally curious and eager to participate in adult activities like cooking and shopping. These moments provide an excellent chance for your child to develop essential life skills and cultivate a positive relationship with food.

2) Avoid using food as a reward or punishment: Avoid using food as a means of reward or punishment. This is a common practice among many parents because it really is an easy way to encourage children to obey or complete tasks. 

For example, you may tell your child, "If you finish all your vegetables and dal-rice, you can have ice cream afterward." This makes “dal rice and veggies” the villain, while ice-cream the hero! Such an imbalance in the way kids perceive food can disrupt their eating habits as they grow up.

3) Lead by example: Model good eating behaviors for your baby's benefit. Eat mindfully, savor your food, chew slowly, and interact with the family members (especially your baby).

Research reveals that children who are part of family meals tend to develop healthier eating behaviors and are more inclined to try foods they see their parents and family members enjoying. If possible, serve the same food to everyone in the family, including your baby, rather than making separate meals. Click here for a quick recap on how you can modify the meals cooked for the family for your baby.

4) Respect your child's autonomy: Your responsibility is to offer nutritious food for your baby. But, it's not your duty to dictate how much they should eat; that's your child's job. This is known as responsive feeding, which has been covered earlier in this article: Responsive Feeding: Nurturing a Healthy Relationship with Food in Children

The goal is to empower your child with autonomy, a fundamental aspect of building a positive relationship with food.

 

5) Create a stress-free mealtime environment: Stress and pressure can lead to unhappy eating experiences and reduced appetite in children. Research shows that when children eat less, the first thing parents should check is the amount of pressure they’re feeling at mealtime. 

Rather than obsessing over the quantity consumed, consider playing their favorite songs, singing, or engaging in conversation. When mealtimes are fun, children are automatically eager to participate.

6) Avoid labeling foods as good or bad:

Avoid labeling healthy foods as "good" and sugary foods as "bad." We don't want children to feel restricted or develop fear, judgment, or shame related to certain foods.

7) Offer a variety: Research shows that when children are exposed to a broad variety of foods at a young age, they are more likely to maintain these preferences as they grow.

8) Embrace messy exploration: Allow your toddler to get messy with their food. It's perfectly fine if they squish or smear their food. Through playfulness, they learn to develop familiarity with different textures and form neurological connections that allows them to eat and accept more types of food.

9) Include fruits and vegetables in every meal: So that your baby has a positive, long-term relationship with vegetables/fruits, consistently add a serving of vegetable or fruit in each meal.

10) Avoid fixating on your baby’s weight: Instead, focus on their overall well-being and contentment. As babies grow, their weight will naturally adjust, and should you have any concerns, consulting your pediatrician is always wise.

11) Encourage mindful eating: The pace of feeding and eating should be slow so that your child gets the opportunity to experience the taste, flavors, texture, and color of the food. This teaches children to eat mindfully, slow down, engage with the food, and avoid distractions like phones or tablets.

 

WE SUGGEST: Creating a positive and healthy relationship with food starts early in a child's life. Although some foods may take longer for your child to accept, so be consistent and patient.

 

That’s it, folks! You have reached the end of this Course. Congratulations!!! This is a proud moment for you and your little one. 

So much has changed in your baby’s life since you started this Course, right? We hope you enjoyed the information provided in this Course, and it helped make your baby’s weaning journey positive and less stressful. We’re absolutely glad you joined us on this journey, and we’re grateful that you made us a part of your baby’s progress! ❤️ 

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