Food, food, food! I'm pretty sure that 99% of all parents have worried about their children and food at some point! Worries that your child isn't eating enough, eating too much, isn't eating the 'right' kind of food, worried that your child only eats 'beige' food or that they don't eat anything green or 'healthy'... the list of worries we as parents have over our children's eating habits can go on and on. I wanted to share a bit of information I have found on healthy eating habits and also links to different articles and blogs that are full of information on ways to help our children develop a positive relationship with food.
I have my own very fussy 3 1/2 year old when it comes to food. It started when she was around 1 year old actually! I have gone through many different battles with myself (and her) around food and her eating. I've gone from only giving her food she likes to giving her only what we are eating for dinner and being strict - "that's what's for dinner, you can eat it or not but that's it..." I went through a stage of 'force feeding' her (pretty difficult to do! and wasn't a very pleasant experience for either of us). I remember seeing her face at meal times - full of anxiety over what was going to be served, and real fear when it was something she didn't like (usually something new that she hadn't' had before) She would loose control at times and throw her food on the floor - which then we would both be upset and angry about...
I realised I couldn't carry on like this - the battles, the tears, the anger... eating was not a pleasant experience for any of us and meal times were becoming an anxious and dreaded experience. So I did some research and I realised that I needed to change my approach. We needed to work on developing a positive experience when it came to food.
The biggest piece of advice I can give when it comes to food/meal times and a fussy toddler - don't stress yourself about it!
To be honest, Cora still eats a very limited array of food- beige/white food is her favorite and she doesn't often try any new food. BUT i still offer some new foods to her every night - a small amount on her divided plate (I got a divided plate from 'Love and Mae' and it's been an absolute lifesaver!) and I also always make sure I have something on her plate that I know she will eat. (research shows that 3-4 year olds often need to be exposed to new food at least 15 times before they might try it!).
Sometimes she eats a lot of food, and sometimes not much. I have learnt (or should I say, I am learning) to trust that she knows her body and trust that she isn't going to starve if she doesn't eat all of her dinner! I do keep it for her and offer it to her later when/ if she says she is hungry.
I try to make food fun - I bought some vege cutters and sandwich cutters to help make food a bit more 'fun' - I cut carrots into stars and pizza into a mickey mouse shape... She gets excited when she sees the fun shapes - and she actually tried a star shaped carrot!
I've also learnt the fruit is actually just as healthy as vegetables (whew! because she eats a lot of fruit and no vegetables...)
In making a few changes to my approach to meal times, I have found that meal times are less stressful and more enjoyable. No she doesn't often try the new food I have put on her plate - but she doesn't get anxious or upset with it being there any more. I don't make her eat it or even try it - I just put it there and say "You don't have to eat it, it's just there if you would like to try it" I sometimes will have a little plate with the 'new food' on it and try it in front of her - often describing the texture or flavour of it "yum, I like this, it's very crunchy..."
A few tips I have tried (and they work!) for getting some vegetables into your fussy child:
If they like cheese sauce with their pasta - I have gotten to the stage now where I have pureed some cauliflower and added a table spoon or so into the cheese sauce - not too much though!
If they like smoothies - add half a carrot or a handful of spinach, a spoonful of avocado, some chia seeds or oats...
make your own pizza sauce for pizzas - can of tomatoes, add broccoli or pumpkin carrots etc then blend it up. Cora only likes plain pizza (of course) - tomato sauce with cheese.
Below is some links to some good blog posts, websites, Facebook pages, Instagram pages and books if you are wanting some extra help with helping your child develop a more positive relationship with food :-)
This is a great blog post on picky eating and also on neophobia (this is actually a thing - a fear of trying new foods) https://kidseatincolor.com/two-year-old-picky-eater/
https://kidseatincolor.com/what-to-feed-picky-toddler/ this blog post is about what to feed your picky toddler
https://kidseatincolor.com/blog/ this blog is full of interesting posts on eating, food, picky eating, ways to help your child eat etc. Kids eat in Color is also a great page to follow on Facebook
https://mamaknowsnutrition.com/ A website and also a page you can follow on Instagram.
http://www.emotionallyawarefeeding.com/blog Another good website with tips and stratigeis for helping with picky eating.
"Helping children to develop a positive relationship with food" by Jo Cormack is a really great, informative and easy to read book - it's actually written as a guide for early learning professionals but I also found it handy as a parent for some tips and strategies for helping my very picky eater with her eating habits.
In case you don't get a chance to read the book (which is available to borrow from the parent library at Riverside :-) ) I've noted some of the main points below:
- Make sure there is always some food the child likes on their plate.
- eat in a conscious way - together, at a table (not in front of the TV.... ooops... Definitely done this many times before!)
- Let your child stop eating when they have had enough - trust that they know when they are full.
- Expose your child to a variety of different foods "There is evidence that the number of necessary exposures changes as a child gets older, ranging from hardly any in infants to five to ten in two-year-olds, to up to 15 in three and four year olds."
"It is important to remember that children often respond negativity to a new food as a default reaction. Young children are only just learning to be emotionally articulate. They might see something new in front of them and their initial reaction is one of caution or even anxiety. They can't understand and express that in the moment. Instead they say "Yuk!" What they mean is, ' I don't know what that is! I'm not sure about that!' the second time a child is exposed to a new food, that cautious reaction will be slightly less powerful. Rather than immediately drawing a conclusion like 'Jane doesn't like papaya', when you hear that 'Yuk!' remember how many exposures a child needs to have before they feel secure with a new food"
- It is second nature to praise children when the eat, however this can be problematic in relation to food - it all comes back to why we want the child to be eating - because we want them to or because their bodies want them to? It's about self-regulation. By consistently praising when eating what we see as enough - we are taking away their ability to self regulate. Here are some examples of ways to give positive attention during meal times which don't interfere with a child's ability to self regulate:
instead of "well done for eating your peas, Jerome!'
try 'Wow, Jerome, you look like you're enjoying those peas!'
Focus on the sensory qualities of the food: 'Karen, that carrot stick looks crunchy! What kind of noise does it make when you chew it?'
Instead of: 'Are you sure you don't want your apple Ahmed?'
Try: 'Is your tummy telling you that you have had enough to eat Ahmed?'
- Language matters when it comes to food - the words we use especially around food is really important - children pick up on what we are saying about food as they develop their own relationship with food..
Above all, remind yourself that you are doing great, and your child is totally normal! Continue to expose your child to new foods, but don't get worked up about it if they don't try it (remember how many times some children need to be exposed to new food before trying it....?!) and make food and meal times fun!
'Loose parts' is a term first coined by a British architect named Simon Nicholson. He believed that every human being has the potential to be creative and that loose parts in an environment invites huge imaginative possibilities. When children engage with loose parts they enter a world of 'what ifs'. Children are highly creative and imaginative and their creativity and imagination is at its highest in their earliest years. It's amazing to think that by interacting and engaging with loose parts, children are learning about things like problem solving and theoretical thinking, it enhances children's ability to think imaginatively and to see solutions, it also adds a sense of adventure and excitement to children's play. Loose parts can literally be ANYTHING - driftwood, scarves, coasters, pine cones, pots, pans, pipes, blocks, stones, pine cones etc.
A cardboard tube can be used as a tunnel for animals, as a telescope to see the planets, as a tower in a city of blocks, as a bridge and so on. But a shiny plastic pirate telescope purchased from the shop is just that and serves one purpose - to be a pirate telescope. And while this may be fun for a child to play with - it will usually only be used for a short period of time and once used, played with or mastered, children rarely go back to use or play with them again and again and again.
Have you ever gotten your child a toy and wondered why they might not use it in the way that it was intended? ( I have! It's very frustrating, because as an adult I know what the intended purpose of it was... but my daughter had other ideas for how to use it!) This is a child's urge to use their imagination and providing them with open ended resources (loose parts) allows them to express this innate creativity and imagination.
We believe an important part of our role as teachers is to provide children with an environment rich in materials and loose parts that spark imagination and support creativity and child led free play. "The theory of loose parts is a vehicle for children to express and test their developing ideas, theories and experiences in life" (Kelly Goodsir on 'The Theory of Loose Parts'). Children need to be creative and to use their imagination, and they need to have access to the environment and tools to do this.
I have noticed this with my now three year old daughter. I used to feel a bit bad for her because I didn't have any plastic 'toys' for her at home and instead gave her things like wooden spoons, cardboard boxes etc to play with - or things that I had lying around - an old container, some driftwood, a metal cup etc. BUT then I noticed that every time, she played with the 'loose parts' a little differently than before. As she got older, she started using them in her play differently - they became different things - food for her dolls, magic wands, swords, guns, houses, or different parts to a city she was building and so on. Don't get me wrong, she has definitely had the plastic brightly coloured toys during her life - which she has loved and enjoyed playing with. BUT the toy really was only ever used for its intended purpose, and was honestly forgotten about after a while - it had served it's purpose. But the drift wood she collected a few months ago....that's still at home, and is still used a lot of the time, as a variety of different things in her (very) imaginative play!
The best thing about the loose parts that she loves playing with -is that they are FREE! they are easily accessible and can be found most places when we go exploring (that's also half the fun - going out collecting the loose parts - which also takes up a good chunk of the day! ) And when you have too many loose parts and they are taking over your house - you can 'throw them away' e.g. put them outside or back where you found them without worrying about adding to the landfill! Win Win!
We have also learnt that loose parts are not just resources that can be used as objects in imaginative play, but are also used as ways to carry out children's natural, instinctual 'urges'. Below is a list from Pennie Brownlee about the different kinds of urges that are naturally inbuilt in children and need to be able to play out. You'll notice that loose parts and urges go hand in hand - children need the loose parts to be able to play out the urges :-)
Some of the Urges that spontaneously Express through
Babies’ and Children’s Play
Some of our human play urges are shared with other mammals because the structure of mammals’ brains requires mammalian play to develop the neurological structures needed for survival. The less stable neocortical structure of humans (sometimes referred to as ‘the great thinking brain’) depends on two things to ‘stabilise’ in an individual - nurture and play. The genetically programmed play urges (schema) are Nature’s way of seeing the neurological structures are developed for survival and transcendence. The question for those of us who work with children is what do we have in their environment that will enable them to follow their genetically encoded promptings and play out their play urges? And is there enough of each thing? Two pinecones will not cut it, half a barrel of pinecones will. One wheelbarrow or
trolley is a recipe for conflict, half a dozen means there will be ‘Transport Companies’ evolve at your place.
Gathering - What beautiful things are there at your place for the children to gather up? Are there lots and lots?
Transporting - What will they transport them in? Handbags, baskets, buckets, wheelbarrows?
Deconstruction - Breaking things comes before making things - for most children.
Construction - Is there enough to make something decent? Two sets of multiple unit blocks? Planks, pegs, reels,blankets, tarpaulins...
Huts (enclosure) - Shelter and safety is deep within the human experience, so what is there for the children to construct their own huts with (rather than be stuck with fixed ‘play house’ someone else has constructed)? Cardboard cartons are perfect for children from babies upward.
Throwing (trajectory) - What is there to throw, inside and outside. And what else is there to throw?
Enveloping - Wrapping things in more leaves and more paper with forty meters of sellotape...
Connection - Putting things end to end, tying things together to make a ‘convoy’ of wheelbarrows, trucks, friends...They’ll need string, rope, ties to connect up their creations.
Posting - Putting things into things is an urge. You can buy specific expensive equipment for this urge or you can up-cycle and put things in the environment that just ask you to post.
Patterning and ordering - If you have plenty of beautiful containers full of beautiful natural objects to meet the gathering urge, you will also have the most ideal materials for patterning and ordering. All your sorting, classifying, seriating threads of learning will happen with these treasures from nature.
Families - Children make families, but that doesn’t mean you have to have plastic animals or a class set of dolls.They make families with sticks, stones, shells...
Rotation - Starting with rolling when babies learn to move off their backs to spinning round and round and falling down dizzy, children have a pattern of the circular to unfold. Low, horizontal tyre-swings extend this, wheeled vehicles, a spinning wheel, retro wind-up gramophones...
Orientation - Looking at things from another angle. Where can children hang upside down, look through their legs, ‘stand’ on their head?
Transformation - Turning something into something else, watching the properties morph and change: soil and water mud pies, clay and water sculpting, flour, butter, baking powder, sugar, water and yeast morning tea rolls....
Climbing - Children are going to climb - some more than others - so where are they going to climb that offers them a decent challenge, both inside and outside?
Jumping - Children are going to jump, so where are they going to jump that is legal inside, and a challenge outside?
Digging and burying - We share this urge with a number of mammals. Have the children got proper spades and tools?
Tug of war - Like some other mammals, tug-of-war is an urge. What have you got for this urge?
Tumbling and wrestling - We share this urge with puppies, kittens and all our primate cousins.
Running and chasey - We share this urge with many of our fellow mammals, taking turns to chase and be chased.
Playing with water - This sacred element is irresistible for all children and most adults.
Playing with fire - This sacred element is irresistible for children and adults alike, where will they light fires legally?
We love Pennie Brownlee at Riverside and all of this talk of urges and loose parts really resonated with us. You will probably have noticed how many loose parts we have available for our children to engage with - both inside and outside, and how we have really tried to make it possible for children to play out all of their 'genetically programmed play urges' within their safe Riverside environment :-)