Teaching your baby how to eat isn’t something that happens over the course of a couple of weeks or even months. Eating is a skill that will evolve as your little one grows all the way into their late toddler years. When our son turned six months old, I remember freaking out over the right way to introduce solids. I wanted to encourage independent eating without feeling pushy or overbearing. But the question was how?
Parenting is really a learn-on-the-job type of experience. I realized quickly into the feeding game that there is no right or wrong way to feed your baby. It’s about what works best for both of you—whether that’s baby-led weaning, purees, or a mix of both. The ultimate goal is that your little one develops a healthy relationship with food and feels confident in their eating skills, and thankfully, there are multiple ways to encourage them. So if you’re ready to explore different ways to foster independent eating, read on for a few low-pressure tips.
Offer food that piques their interest
Most toddler moms fully understand the love affair between our 2-year-olds and their chicken nuggets. It’s an inseparable duo at this point. Whether you are trying to avoid that future (it’s not impossible!) or you want similar but healthy alternatives, we suggest a meal subscription service like Little Spoon.
Little Spoon has a wide selection of meals suited for each developmental stage your kiddo is in. They offer Babyblends for the littles who just started solids, Biteables for kids 9 to 16 months old, and Plates for toddlers and beyond. Each meal has hidden veggies and superfoods in every bite, so they’re getting all the good stuff from the start. Their wide selection of fun and unique recipes are guaranteed to get your little one’s attention, and they’ve even partnered with Dr. Becky to equip parents with scripts + tips for challenging mealtime scenarios.
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Even though there’s not one artificial thing in their ingredients, all Little Spoon meals look delicious enough for adults to eat. Almost all kids go through a picky phase once they reach age two, so it will be a huge advantage to have a regular influx of meals that they already love and are interesting enough for them to eat. Plus, if you start your subscription today you can get 35% off of your first order with code EVERY35MOM.
Allow them to use their hands
If you’ve ever wondered why they have an insanely strong grip (goodbye chunks of hair), it’s because babies spend a good chunk of their first year honing their fine motor skills. They have the ability to grasp fresh out the womb and it only gets better as they begin interacting with their world. For example, the random household items they insist on shoving into their tiny mouths. However, this is a skill you can use to your advantage during mealtime from the beginning.
You would be surprised how well babies can grab fistfuls of mushy food and stuff (most of) it into their mouths. Allowing them to use their hands while eating has been proven to encourage independence and fine motor skills. You can always assist them with a small spoon so they don’t end up wearing their meal instead of eating it, but the more they figure it out by themselves the more confident they will become.
Embrace the mess
This may be a tough one if you’re the type of mom that cringes every time a blueberry splatters on the floor. Kids learn best through play, and even though most of us grew up hearing the phrase “don’t play with your food,” research shows the opposite. Allowing kids to play with their food helps them develop their sensory skills, especially if your little one has a sensory disorder. Playing with food helps take the mystery out of new flavors and textures.
A downside of babies finger feeding and playing with their food is the inevitable mess that accompanies their hour of exploration. But mama, breathe through it and invest in a quality wet vacuum because it will be worth it in the end when your little one is fully self feeding in no time.
Model the behavior
Children love to imitate their parents, and they find comfort in repeating actions that are familiar to them. Instead of focusing on how much food is entering their mouths, eat your meal in front of them so they can see how to do it. I would even chew in an exaggerated manner when my son was learning to eat. I found that setting this example really helped him copy the correct way to eat. Let’s be real, chewing with our mouths open is probably the least gross thing we’ve done as parents anyway.
Have some fun with it!
If you put yourselves in your kid’s shoes, how responsive would you be if someone was shoving food into your face and repeating “c’mon one more bite!” every 10 seconds? The more pressure a child feels, the less likely they are to do what you want (and that’s on everything). Some kids need a totally hands-off approach while others enjoy turning mealtime into a mini dance party. Explore where your kid lands on that spectrum and continue with what yields the best results. Not only should you relieve some of the pressure off them but off of yourself as well. After all, your little one won’t be spoon-fed forever, so lean into the joys of mealtime instead.
This post contains a sponsored inclusion of Little Spoon, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.