Although child growth follows a natural sequence and timing; it can be aided along or stimulated. However, many parents, especially mothers, seem to abuse this privilege both unknowingly and knowingly. This may lead to negative consequences later on in the child’s life. One of these is when it’s right for an infant to be introduced to certain types of meals.
Upon birth till at most three months after childbirth, the primary food of a child is usually breast milk, although this may be supplemented or in some cases totally replaced by breast milk substitutes such as formula milk. However, as the child grows other forms of food are introduced, much of which involves chewing. The ability to chew is not innate. At this point, the growth and development of this vital skill must be aided and properly guided.
What Is the Proper Age to Introduce a Child to Solid Food?
Officially there is no specific age at which it is deemed appropriate to introduced solid or semi-solid food to a child. However, there are developmental milestones to watch out for; if these signs are noticed, you can start giving the child semi-solid food. The signs are:
- When the child sits upright without any support
- The child does not push out solids with his tongue and has lost the tongue-thrust reflex
- The child is willing to chew
- The child picks up objects with the thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp)
- The child tries to put food in his mouth by himself
If these developmental milestones are not seen it is advised to delay introducing babies to adult food for health reasons.
What Foods Should I Use for Training and At What Stage?
Before you embark on the journey of training, it is very imperative to be equipped with the types of food you are to give and at what age. Here are the foods and at what stage you are to give them.
- Within the 3-5 months after birth, the child should be given puree and mushy foods.
- At 6-7 months, you can give food that includes slightly more dense meals. Fiber-less vegetables can also be included, but mashed fruits are acceptable.
- At 8-12 months, increase the texture of the food. Give solid food such as soft bread slices that will lead to chewing.
- At 1 year, you can give the child non-staple foods but make sure they are cut into fine pieces which the child can easily chew and swallow.
- At 2 years, the child can be given foods that are in form of strips or cut into small dices.
What Are the Guidelines For Training a Child on How to Eat?
Training a child on how to eat is a very tiresome task, but there are different ways to go about it. However, let it be known that this is not the time to teach the baby “table manners”. When training a child on how to eat or chew, the following guidelines should be followed:
Always make sure the baby is in charge of the spoon. Although the child might use it for drumsticks or as a wand at first, be patient. This is very frustrating because it is time-tasking, and when the child is finally done eating, everywhere is messed up. You can still help the child by putting some food on the spoon before giving him, or guiding his hand to the bowl and then to the mouth at least three times. Amidst all the frustrations, always give the baby the spoon.
Never stop the child from eating with his hands. The goal is to learn how to eat, not table manners! Please do not be overly concerned with how much food the child is putting into his mouth or how he is putting it. This is another form of learning how to eat that most babies adopt and it should be encouraged.
Allow the child to mix the food however he wants to. The child might make silly mistakes like putting the rice into the juice and try to get the rice out or putting greens in chocolate pudding and eating. Do not stop this process as this is when the child identifies different forms of food.
Never force a child to eat! When the child does not want to eat, he’ll show no interest in collecting the spoon from you. However, when the child is full, he will either push the plate away or leave the dining table. If he does any of these things, do not force the child to finish the food. There is no need to fear malnutrition as long as you are giving the baby a balanced diet, and the child’s weight is within the standard range.
If these guidelines are followed consistently, the child will learn to start eating by himself in no time.
What Are the Common Errors Made While Training a Child on How to Eat?
Teaching requires a great deal of composure and patience. Due to frustration, distraction, lack of adequate knowledge, or other reasons which may be conscious or subconscious, mothers sometimes make mistakes during this important process. Common errors that mothers make while teaching a child how to eat include:
- Some mothers try to feed their babies when they are distracted. For example, some mothers turn on the television when they want to feed their child so the child would be distracted and feeding would be easier. Although they do this to make it easier for themselves, it is a very wrong approach. The correct approach is to make the environment as quiet as possible for the baby to concentrate on eating and enjoy it.
- Another error is the posture and position of the baby while he is eating. Some mothers give their babies food when they are carrying them with one hand, lying down, or even running around. This is very wrong and should be corrected. The valid posture of a child that is eating is to sit face-to-face with his mother. This prevents complications in the child’s system.
- Most mothers issue threats and unpleasant statements to their children for them to eat. This is very common as statements like,” you would only watch television if you eat”,” eat fast”, and other discouraging statements. This is a very wrong practice as the child might develop a grudge against eating. The proper approach is to communicate with the baby calmly, always tell the child about the food that he is eating.
- Many mothers stop their children from eating with their hands because they think it is unhygienic. However, this is the fastest way in which a child learns how to eat.
Can I Chew the Food Before Giving The Child?
Mothers and guardians make many mistakes in the process of introducing their children to adult food. However, never make the mistake of chewing the food first before giving it to your child. Amongst very many mistakes, try to avoid this particular mistake although it is very common.
The reasons for this emphasis include:
- There are many bacteria in the mouth of an adult to which his immune system has great resistance to. However, the immune system of babies is weak and cannot resist these bacteria which might lead to diarrhea or ulcer.
- Some diseases are transmittable through saliva. These diseases include hepatitis B, herpes of pharyngitis, and other diseases. With a very weak immune system, a child will easily contract these diseases.
- A section of the digestive system will become dormant. If the child does not chew his food, the biting and chewing section of his digestive system becomes very dormant.
- The child might have issues with his speech. During the chewing process, the oral cavity is exercised as it moves but when this exercise does not occur, the child tends to have issues with his speech.
What Precautions and Feedbacks Are to be Noted When Preparing the Child’s Food?
Training the child on how to eat is one thing but preparing the appropriate food with adequate conditions, makes the learning process easier and faster. Sadly, it is a bit impossible to get all the conditions for the food perfectly at first. You are to observe the child and get feedback on what you should continue and what you should stop. The feedbacks to watch out for the most are:
- The reaction of the baby towards the taste of the food. Babies tend to have more sensitive taste buds and kidneys than adults. Normally, a baby’s food does not contain seasonings because of their kidneys. In case you did not know and you got negative feedback, put very little or no seasoning at all when preparing the child’s food.
- Whether the child rejects the food or not. Although they are new to the game, babies reject some adult food, and most times they continue to dislike this food as they grow.
- If the child has irregular bowel movements. Immediately this is noticed, stop giving the child adult food. It means that the child’s system is not yet able to digest adult food.
Without a doubt, it’ll be very embarrassing for a child to be up to 3 years and still struggle with how to eat. For this reason, the guidelines stated should be followed judiciously and consistently. Be vigilant to know when to stop and what to stop. All this is for the better development of the child.