women

18-36 Months: Eating with the Family - Time Together (part 1)

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Your child will be increasingly curious about food, and will love to get involved in family dinners and in the preparation of meals. Even little ones can help in the kitchen, and you’ll be encouraging good habits and teaching skills that will last a lifetime.

Q: Can my toddler eat her evening meal with us later in the evening?
A: If she’s able to wait, and isn’t too tired and grumpy, it’s a good idea to allow her to eat with you. She’ll learn table manners and healthy eating habits, enjoy the sociable aspects of mealtimes, and probably extend her food repertoire in the process.

While eating together is to be encouraged as much as possible, late working hours can make it almost impossible. In this case, don’t worry. Sit down with your toddler while she eats, and save family mealtimes for weekends and holidays, until she’s old enough for a later bedtime. You can always get her bathed and ready for bed, and offer something light such as fruit and yogurt, or a little toast, when you are ready to eat. Or why not sit her at the table and let her pick at food on your plate? She’ll enjoy being a part of what mom and dad do and may be encouraged to try new things.

Q: I normally eat later in the evening with my partner, but I’m concerned that meals are becoming a lonely experience for my child. What do you recommend?
A: Why not try eating a “starter” with your child, and having a little less later on? If you can manage to eat some of what he is eating, it will be more effective—he won’t feel that he’s been sidelined and forced to eat something no one else has to eat. Or why not make a little salad for you both? He’ll be proud to be offered something “adult” (even if he only eats a little). Make sure you at least sit with him to ensure mealtimes are a sociable experience.
Q: What foods can I introduce to appeal to the whole family?
A: As long as family meals are healthy and balanced, anything goes. Experiment with new flavors from other cuisines, such as Indian, Italian, or Turkish, and add fun and variety to your diet. Try, also, to forget the idea that there are “kid” foods and “adult” foods—anything can be adapted to different levels of sophistication. My chicken meatballs can, for example, be made into a Thai meatball meal with noodles for the rest of the family.
Q: Will sitting at the family table encourage my child to try new things?
A: It will undoubtedly make a difference. First of all, it provides quality time with your child, and encourages her to think of food and mealtimes as a positive experience. This goes a long way toward preventing fussy eating habits.

Secondly, studies show that kids who eat with their parents regularly have a much better idea of what foods are healthy, and are more likely to be adventurous eaters. They learn table manners, and social etiquette, and pick up your values. In terms of new foods, kids are much more likely to try foods that everyone else is eating because they want to be equal and “important.”

Furthermore, parents and siblings act as role models, and all children are keen to copy. Displaying your own healthy eating habits can be invaluable for your child, and encourage her to follow suit. If everyone is eating the same food, she’ll be much more likely to try them herself. Be patient, though. If you have extended family meals, your child might become bored and irritable. Most young children will have eaten their fill in about 20 minutes, so allow her to be “released,” to play on the kitchen floor, or sit on a parent’s lap.

Q: How can I get my child involved in the kitchen?
A: From the very early days, it’s a good idea to encourage your little one to help out in the kitchen, from sieving, mixing, grating, and cracking eggs, to rolling out dough and cutting out shapes . Children also enjoy being involved in setting the table and helping to put together a salad, stirring the salad dressing, or spreading butter on bread.
Q: Do you have some fun recipes that my child and I can create together?
A: Making cakes is always popular—involve him in making the Cupcake caterpillar cake, or the White chocolate crispie squares. He’ll enjoy adding his own toppings to mini-pizzas , dipping fish goujons in bread crumbs, or making his own fruit popsicles.
Q: Is it OK to give my child a little ketchup?
A: Despite its rather tawdry reputation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ketchup. In the past, ketchup tended to be high in salt and sugar, but many newer brands are much lower in these additives, and much tastier as a result.

Ketchup is, actually, healthy, too. A number of studies have found that it is a useful addition to any diet, because it contains a substance called lycopene. Lycopene is especially concentrated in tomato sauce and paste, and is an antioxidant (these cancel out the effects of free radicals, which damage the body’s genetic material and can lead to cancer and a host of other illnesses). What’s more, lycopene helps to improve eyesight, and encourages a healthy heart. So a little salt and sugar does not detract from its clear benefits.

Q: How can I sweeten foods without using too much sugar?
A: First of all, white sugar is the worst of the lot, so even using brown or unrefined sugars can make a difference. Maple syrup and honey all have plenty of nutrients, which make them a healthy option. They sweeten but also add some vitamins and minerals (and, in the case of honey, some antibacterial properties), whereas sugar is often simply empty calories. Molasses, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, fruit juice, fruit purées, and agave syrup—a very sweet, natural source of sugar, derived from a plant—are all healthy options. Whatever you do, don’t resort to artificial sweeteners, which may not add any calories, or damage teeth, but offer absolutely no nutrients and may have a negative impact on health.
Q: My child seems to have developed a taste for salt, and won’t eat anything without a generous sprinkling. What should I do?
A: There is no doubt that salt can make things taste nicer, and that it is addictive! If you started him off on jarred foods with added salt, or he’s become accustomed to salty snacks, fresh healthy food will undoubtedly taste bland and unappealing. There are a few ways around this. Firstly, try to make his food more flavorful by adding herbs, spices, juice, and low-sodium stocks when cooking. If he gets lots of flavor, he won’t miss the salty taste. For ideas on flavoring kids’ food, see Flavors from Around the World. Try also, as a family, to leave the salt shaker off the table. If no one else is doing it, and there is no shaker available, he’ll likely forget, and the habit will be broken.

Did you know…

that your child is much more likely to eat something that she’s played a part in making? Children view their accomplishments with huge pride, and will take great interest in the reaction they get from you. If you all sit down and eat happily, she’ll undoubtedly do the same, even if she’s fully aware that some of the ingredients are on her usual “I won’t eat” list. What’s more, she’ll learn to understand the steps involved in preparing food, a little about nutrition, and will develop her tastes.

Condiments?

It’s fine to introduce condiments to your little one. Mustard, ketchup (see Is it OK to give my child a little ketchup?), fresh pickles, salsa, mayonnaise, pesto, and even non-MSG chile dips are all appropriate for little ones. Remember, though, that toddlers have very small tummies, and adding extra sauces or ingredients is likely to fill them up even more quickly, preventing ideal nutritional intake from their healthy diets, so offer them only in small quantities.

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