Simple Mealtime Changes That Will Keep Your Family Healthy
1. The early days
In the first months of your baby’s life, he or she will feed on demand, responding to several factors: appetite, growth stage, and environmental cues. At this stage, your baby will naturally regulate eating based on whether he or she is hungry or full. But as time progresses, you’ll have to help him or her maintain that natural self-regulation, which is why structured feeding is so important.
2. Mealtime structure matters
When your baby begins the transition from a liquid diet (of formula or breast milk) to solid foods, it will be crucial that you begin implementing structured feeding. Research has shown that this can help maintain good nutrition and growth, as well as your baby’s ability to regulate his or her appetite. So, what is structured feeding? It refers to offering nutritious meals at predictable times and locations, allowing children to eat throughout the day. Since children’s ability to take in nutrients at each meal or snack is limited, they need multiple opportunities throughout the day.
Infants transitioning to solids and young toddlers will need to eat between five and six times each day, with three primary meals and supplementary snacks. Older toddlers will need to eat closer to five times each day, with three meals and two snacks. Keeping these meals at familiar times as much as possible will build your child’s sense of security and trust and is the first key step in structured feeding.
The next step in establishing structured feeding is having a primary location for eating both meals and snacks. The kitchen works best, though some flexibility for outings, etc. is acceptable. As your toddler grows and becomes more expressive, this will allow you to “close the kitchen” between feedings to prevent constant snacking, which could lead to excess weight gain.
5. Nutrition is key
It’s important to remember that while other elements of feeding should be structured, you shouldn’t offer the same foods over and over. Try to offer most food groups with each feeding and vary your choices. Introducing a variety of foods will ensure that your child is taking in diverse nutrients and will help prevent picky eating. Offer dairy, meats, fruits, vegetables, grains, and fats for a balanced diet.
- Castle and Jacobsen
- Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School
Samour and King
- Pediatric Nutrition, 4th edition
- Childhood overweight and the relationship between parent behaviors, parenting styles, and family functioning
- The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
- 615: 11-37.
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