In our home, mealtime can be both a time to reconnect as a family and a time of chaos! Besides actually eating food, it’s a balance of hangry kids, a dog, tired parents, and finding the time to sit down together. Add an active one-year-old into the mix and now food isn’t just on the table; it’s usually all over the high chair, floor, and sometimes my hair!
As a type-A personality, I like to think I can control those sorts of mealtime messes, but to no avail. On top of that, I am often worrying about things like “Is my daughter eating enough variety? Are her eating habits turning into picky eating or is she just a cautious eater today? Is she gaining enough weight? Did she struggle to go #2 today? Is she learning how to use a sippy cup fast enough?” I quickly realized that my stressing over my baby’s eating and cleanliness wasn’t helping anyone. If anything, my baby picked up on how much I dreaded mealtimes and seemed to struggle that much more.
Two small, big-impact changes have helped our family as a whole:
1) My new mantra is “don’t mind the mess!” Although an eyesore, mealtime messes are a normal part of toddler development. I have to remind myself that this stage won’t last forever, and it's actually helpful.
My one-year-old learns so much by handling food! Different textures, colors, temperatures and tastes all help in exposing her to a variety of foods. By allowing these messes (within reason), my one-year-old is learning her own boundaries while hopefully having a healthy foundation with food.
2) Focus on her, not the food. This one is so much easier said than done, but has made a world of a difference. If I’m worried about my baby’s weight gain, of course it’s natural to look at her plate to count how many bites she’s eaten, and maybe even bribe her to take more.
Unfortunately, it’s also easy to see how that kind of hyper-focusing on food can promote both over-eating and obsession at mealtimes (leading to picky eating!). Instead, let her choose what to eat when it’s time to eat! Babies will mimic eating behaviors, anything from using cutlery to chewing motions.
By tuning in my attention to my daughter, not the food or the tornado of cleanup after eating, mealtimes are more enjoyable than ever. Even though my baby is still learning to make sounds, chatting at the dinner table with my husband and toddler about our day, something we did, something we’re grateful for, or even just the weather has helped immensely. PSA: Throwing in a little bit of peek-a-boo giggles during mealtime can make messes that much cuter!
I’m a wife and a mom to three - two girls and the sweetest rescue dog, Duke. I love being home with my two girls and finding new ways to stay busy in this pandemic! I believe in the power of consistency; preventing problems is much easier than treating them!
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