The Need to Establish Good Eating Habits in the Young Part 1

February 4, 2010

simple Belgian endive saladVery few adults and parents seem to recognise or appreciate the fact that young children need to be taught to eat properly. Similarly, parents and adults don’t seem to recognise that all too often the child’s food and dietary choices and eating habits reflect and replicate the poor choices and habits of their parents.

All children require regular routines and in particular, regular mealtimes. It is also necessary that the parents or person feeding a young child are not stressed and impatient at mealtimes as this communicates itself to the child and may upset the mealtime routine.

As early as possible, young children need to progress from pureed foods to tougher, more textured foods – these need to be introduced progressively – in order to develop their chewing and swallowing skills; as well as their facial, jaw and neck muscles. This is also critical because of the link between learning to chew etc. and the development of proper speech patterns, which are difficult without proper muscular development. Initially all foods will need to be finely sliced and cut up to enable the young child to manage.

Great care needs to taken in making sure the child does not have too much food in his/her mouth at a time and that the pieces of food are not too large and that they are well chewed prior to swallowing. Children should be actively discouraged from putting their fingers in their mouths when they are learning to eat. It is especially critical for the child to learn to avoid both swallowing improperly chewed food and eating too quickly.

As the child’s muscles strengthen and chewing ability increases the food particle sizes/portions should be progressively increased. These early lessons lay the foundations for the eating habits of a lifetime so if they are rushed and not gently inculcated the child may be placed at a severe disadvantage for the rest of its life. This may also make life very difficult, traumatic and frustrating for the parents, who may have to go back to and address all these fundamental eating issues. It is better to get the eating habits right the first time. It may also traumatise the child making him/her difficult to manage.

This is also the time to gently, patiently and persistently introduce children to small amounts of a wide a variety of foods (as wide as possible) to familiarise them with these foods. At the same time the parent or feeding guardian should be on the lookout for food intolerances and allergies, and should not impose or force foods that obviously upset a child. There is often a fine line and it may be difficult to decide between a genuine case and a try on.

In my next blog I will continue to write about teaching good eating habits in the young.

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