A Simple Exercise to Reframe How We Feel about Feeding Kids

Starting Solids

What does feeding children have to do with toys?

I recently shared an exercise I developed for parents who are newly introducing solid foods to their babies with Fit Pregnancy and Baby and I wanted to elaborate on it more here.

Back when we were first starting solids, it was far too easy for me to get emotionally tied to what my daughter chose to eat. When she refused something I thought would be a surefire win, or something that I put a lot of care and effort into cooking for her, it was easy for me to feel disappointed and take her refusal as a personal reflection on my parenting.

But as a professional, I knew that this isn’t really the case. According to the Division of Responsibility principle developed by the highly respected dietitian and family therapist Ellyn Satter, my role in feeding my children is to determine the what, when and where of eating. The whether to eat (as well as how much) is 100% the child’s responsibility.

So if I serve my daughter something and she rejects it, intellectually I understand that it’s not a reflection on me. To help myself and the parents I work with truly take this to heart, however, I developed the following exercise:

Sit your child in his/her high chair. Instead of food, offer three small toys. Sit back and observe your child’s behavior. Does he/she gravitate towards one toy and ignore the others? Does he/she gleefully engage with all three toys? Does one toy end up in your child’s mouth while the others end up on the floor?

It really doesn’t matter what your child chooses to do with the toys. Take note of your own feelings about the experience. Ask yourself, do you feel like a failure as a parent if your child doesn’t engage with one of the toys you chose to offer? Do you feel excited and encouraged that he/she has engaged with everything you offered?

I can’t speak for you, but my guess is that you feel pretty neutral about the toys your kid chooses to engage with. They’re just toys! This week, one toy will be your kid’s favorite while next week that one will get tossed back on the pile in favor of something else. Babies will be babies – who knows why the things that pique their interest do so. As a parent, I’m sure you have more important things to worry about.

Now, remind yourself that as far as your baby knows, the food you offer him/her is not much different from a toy. He/she is only just learning what all these different things in the world are all about. Apparently, some are totally okay to nosh on and swallow (food), while mommy gets really upset when they try to eat others (coins, pens, lip balm…)

What can toys teach us about infant feeding? Check out The Baby Steps Dietitian's simple exercise Click To Tweet

Once I grasped this concept myself, I became much more relaxed about introducing solids to my daughter and I believe it has helped us develop a positive feeding relationship. So remember, the most important thing for you to do as a parent is to consistently offer nourishing foods to your kid. If they choose to eat them, great, keep offering. But if they reject them, it’s even more important to keep at it and refrain from using bargaining or persuasion tactics to get the child to eat them – that’s not your job.

Having been through this process and knowing how mind boggling it can be (Did we already do cauliflower? Wait, I thought she liked peas already!) I developed this Food Exposure Chart to help parents keep track of how often they’re offering certain foods. Sign up to receive it here and you’ll also get my Top 7 Tips for Offering New Foods and New Food Suggestion Checklist.

Have you tried this exercise? How did it go for you?

A simple exercise to help parents understand why babies may seem to be picky eaters

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