All the parents want their child to be independent and happy so that they can take care of themselves well when we are not around. In the first year, your baby will be home with you most of the time, as your child grows he may have to go to a daycare center in case you need to go to work or start a preschool. This is the first place where the independence you have been teaching your child will help tremendously. How to encourage independent eating in babies? How to develop healthy and independent eating habits in babies? Can we help develop self-feeding in infants? Yes definitely! It is actually very simple. Each one of you can do this. Will it be hard? No. Is it worth it? Totally Yes! Is it messy? Yes! Will you have fun? Yes!
The first year when the child reaches the milestone of sitting and supporting himself is the right time to start encouraging self-feeding in infants. When you start solids you have started preparing your baby’s digestion for more food that he will be eating in the future. Now it is time to prepare him and his mind to start eating on his own. You will see this develop when your child starts crawling he will try to put everything into his mouth. Through the mouth is the best sensory experience for a child. They can feel the textures and taste. This is kind of a milestone and a hint for you that your child is ready to be taught how to self feed himself. This is when you can start fostering independent eating in babies!
Amazing Ways to Foster Independent Eating in Babies
Take their opinion while choosing baby’s cutlery
Take your baby shopping for his own cutlery. Let them see the colors. Help them explore options by feeling texture, prints, and material. Offer two choices to your child and ask him what he prefers. Please make sure you pick a child safe and child friendly (that doesn’t break easily). Children love choosing for themselves. They will show you what they prefer immediately. This is one of the ways of fostering independent eating in babies. What else are you fostering here? Decision making, exploring, and showing them that their choice is important.
My little one chose his own milk cup and he started using it the moment we bought it home. And that was the goodbye to the bottle. Weaning from the bottle was this easy for him. Even today he has food on the plate he selected for himself and does not like eating on any other plate when at home.
Explore cutlery without food to develop independent eating habits in babies
Let your child use the cutlery without food. He would have had plenty of opportunities to see how a spoon is to be used. He would have seen the bowl hold food. Now it is time to let him try and see if he can do the same thing you do when eating food. It does not happen immediately. Your child will take time to get used to holding a spoon or use his hand to pick items from the bowl. Consequently, whatever he has picked (even imaginary food or actual finger food) has to go into his mouth. This itself is a great achievement for your baby. There will be a lot of activity happening with the cutlery and let it happen. Gradually, when you introduce foods in that bowl it will be most welcomed by your child.
Introduce finger food to develop self feeding in infants
Finger foods are the ones your child can pick up with his fingers and put it into his mouth. Please make sure the finger food is good for your baby and well-cooked until your child has developed a full set of teeth and has started using them. Children love colorful finger foods. This is also an activity that helps your child with his pincer grasp a lot and helps promote sensory development in the first year.
According to your child’s age keep introducing different varieties colors and textures because in the first year if your child starts enjoying all the tastes then that might continue in the next years to come. Always see if your child does not touch or like a certain food, introduce it sometime next week. Forcing never works with a child and neither does feeding with distraction. Introducing finger foods can be the most colorful and sensory way of encouraging independent eating in babies.
Sit with them and help them understand to foster independent eating habits in babies
At least once a day, you need to sit with your child and have your meal in the similar way the child is having. This is so that your child can look at you and learn from you. This is an important step towards self-feeding in infants. You can even help your child once in a while by giving instructions. The amazing benefit of this is where you can talk to your baby and tell him about tastes and discuss the food. It is how you can help boost sensory and language development too.
Give your baby healthy options most of the time to develop healthy self-feeding in infants
Healthy food is good for our body. We always watch what we are eating. We need to do the same with a child. Healthy food in the first year helps them develop healthy habits for the future. Foods high in sugar, chips, candies, chocolates, etc can be given but keep it as a luxury and something to be had only once in a while. Regular intake of these foods is not healthy for the baby. Moreover so in the first year of your baby’s life. The baby’s digestion is just developing in the first year. By choosing healthy and easily digestible food for your child, you will help the digestion system develop completely and normally.
Provide healthy options for your child like veggies and fruits, homemade items so that he can choose from them. Healthy food options on the table are one way of fostering healthy and independent eating habits in children. The whole family needs to eat healthy food together to develop it as a family. One person eating healthy and another person preferring unhealthy will not work in the long run.
Eat at least one meal as a family to help develop independent eating habits in babies
Please make sure you eat at least one meal as a family. Let your child see the whole family sitting down at the table and having food. I would rather say enjoying food and each other’s company. What I think happens here is good and strong memories and feelings are attached to eating. This happens subconsciously in the child’s mind. Mom and dad are enjoying food, I am loving my food too. This is one of the best and tasty ways of nurturing your baby in the first year.
Self feeding in infant’s is a messy game
Yes! Is it messy? Sometimes a lot. On the way to learning independent eating habits, a lot of mess can happen when your child is trying to put the spoon into his mouth. Trust me sometimes it goes where it shouldn’t be going. However, it is necessary that you allow the mess that comes with the independent eating. Mess can be cleaned later, but the development cannot wait. Sometimes a child will play with the food once his tummy seems full. All the kids do it. While monitoring, allow a little fun but don’t encourage wasting of food intentionally.
You are worried about the mess and do not have time to clean. Make a set up which can be cleaned easily, keep a huge cloth under the baby’s high chair or eating area. Put bibs and covering for your baby’s clothes which can be removed once eating is done. Moms know mostly how to make sure they can clean up the mess easily. Hence, set up what’s easy for you to clean.
Offer when they want to eat to foster independent eating habits in babies
Your best chance at getting your child to eat independently is offering when they ask for it. Even now when my son is almost 4, this works wonders. A child even before he starts talking asks for food in amazing ways. This is the window. Sometimes, if it’s before lunchtime or any other large mealtime, we tend to not offer them anything. But, a better option is to offer a little something that won’t disturb the large meal.
Allowing the child to decide what he wants to eat in the two options you are offering is an amazing privilege you can offer to your child. Yes! How do we feel when we are asked our opinion on what we want instead of being forced upon? Similarly, offering minimal choices to your child when it comes to food can encourage independent eating in babies.
No distraction during meal time
This is the most crucial part I would love to emphasize. Please avoid any kinds of distraction when it is eating time for your babies. In the first year of your child’s life, you are setting most of the scene for the next coming years. Screen time nowadays is inevitable. However, it is best and beneficial for the baby if you do not offer any distraction or screen time. The reason is to let your child focus on the food and his own hunger. How will a baby know whether he likes the food or he is full if he is being constantly distracted?
I have seen parents wanting the children to eat as much as they want them to eat. Alternatively, it needs to be the child who understands when he is full and needs to stop eating. It is easy to distract and feed so that the baby stays full for the next few hours. However, it is great if he eats a small amount frequently understanding his own hunger. No distraction and screen during mealtime is another key to developing healthy and independent eating habits in babies. This also promotes mindfulness.
Establish routines and set a “place” for eating food
Children thrive on routines. They don’t have an internal system that guides them through what next. Hence it is crucial for parents to set routines for their child to help nurture him. Establish routines around mealtimes. For example, washing hands together before food and saying a prayer before eating food. Lastly, be grateful for the food and saying Thank you. This helps instill good manners in the subconscious mind of the baby.
Designate a place for eating food and mealtime. This is great because the baby knows when I eat I have to sit there. Many times, you will find that you won’t need to say it, the hungry child would have already settled down in his place with cutlery ready to eat. My one year old would always do this. Whenever he was hungry, he took out his bowl and spoon. We eat while sitting on the floor on a mat. So he had his mat and cutlery out and was waiting for me to serve his food. So I know this helps tremendously in developing independent eating in babies.
Every parent wants what’s best for their child. Reminding you every child is different and has his or her own pace of eating and other developmental milestones. Independent eating habits can be fostered at home. But if you can’t do it or are unable to do it please do not worry at some point of time your child will learn it anyway. Mostly it happens when your child joins a preschool. Do not pressurize yourself or your child to push at something both of you are still not ready for. Take the tips and adjust it to however it suits you and your lovely child.