Child-led Feeding: Cultivate Healthy Meal Habits

breastfeeding complementary feeding

My 3-year old toddler enjoys eating with the whole family. She has a healthy  appetite and loves a variety of fruits, vegetables, fishes, chicken, cheeses and yogurt, rice, pasta, noodles, and more. Before she started with solid food, I chanced upon and started reading up on a concept called baby-led weaning.

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a way of introducing solid foods that allows babies to feed themselves - there’s no spoon feeding and no purées. The baby sits with the family at mealtimes and joins in when she is ready, feeding herself first with her fingers and later with cutlery. {Gill Rapley}

 

I'm happy it worked for us though I personally prefer the term child-led feeding - because, well, we are not ready to wean just yet. Child-led feeding allows the child to explore taste, texture, color and smell and encourages her to be independent and more confident in trying out new food. Letting her feed herself also helps develop fine motor skills. My toddler now learned eating not just with her hands and fingers, but also with a spoon, fork, and even chopsticks.

Just recently, I attended the Infant and Young Child Feeding Seminar by Velvet Roxas organized by Manila Workshops. Velvet is one of the country’s breastfeeding experts and Deputy Executive Director of Arugaan – Support System for Women with Infants and Young Children.

It was an afternoon well spent. I particularly found the meal mix and match suggestions based on Philippine indigenous food very useful. I was really looking forward to something like this because I wanted to learn more about child-led feeding in the Philippine setting. Most of the web resources I know are based on western food choices.

Practical Tips on Starting with Child Led Feeding

To help you get started, I've compiled the following tips in raising a happy eater.

1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months or a little longer.

This means that there is no need to give water, tea, juice, am, vitamins, or other food to healthy, breastfed babies. Medicine or oresol may be given if  medically necessary.

Waiting until baby is at least 6 months old before introducing solids has several advantages including:

  • gives baby greater protection from illness
  • gives baby’s digestive system time to mature
  • decreases the risk of food allergies
  • helps to protect baby from iron-deficiency anemia
  • helps to protect baby from future obesity

Read the full list on KellyMom.com.

Did you know? Breastfeeding on demand teaches babies to regulate their own food intake because they feed at their own pace and decide when to stop. Breastfeeding also prepares babies to different tastes because mom's diet affect her breastmilk flavor.

Many feel that this ever-changing flavor of breastmilk is likely to make breastfed babies more likely to enjoy the varying tastes of solids and less likely to be picky eaters in the long run. {KellyMom}

2. Follow your baby's cues.

You should start your baby on solids when s/he shows signs of being ready for solids, not by the calendar. {International Breastfeeding Centre}
Signs that indicate solid food readiness:
  • Shows interest in the food you eat and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.
  • Can sit well unassisted.
  • Have lost the tongue thrust reflex (doesn't automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue).
  • Can grasp and hold onto foods.

3. Continue breastfeeding even after starting with solid food.

Breastmilk should be baby's primary source of nutrition until closer to the end of the first year. Before baby turns 1 year old, solid food is meant to complement breastmilk, not replace it. My daughter is now 3 years old and still breastfeeds on demand even if she's already eating full meals and snacks. Breastfeeding beyond 2 years is biologically normal and is good for the health and welfare of both the mother and child.

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Flower girl taking a break. #breastfeedingph

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4. Follow-on milk formula is NOT necessary.

This was stated in the 1986 World Health Assembly Resolution No. 39.28.

At age 1, a child should get most of his/her nutritional needs from healthy solid food. Artificial toddler milk or even fresh animal milk is a convenient source of calcium and fats but not an essential part of a healthy diet. The problem with 'toddler milk' marketing is that we're being made to believe that they can provide complete nourishment for picky eaters. Please remember that it should NOT and could NOT replace a healthy meal. Teach your child to eat right instead of relying on these. Read more about why formula toddler milk can do more harm than good on Chronicles of a Nursing Mom.

5. Make mealtime a happy family affair.

Create an atmosphere of warmth and fun as family members gather around the table. Every mealtime is a chance to share and savor God's blessings.

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Just another morning with this crazy baby.

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When humans eat together, their oxytocin levels increase and the digestion and metabolism of their food becomes more efficient.

During mealtimes, grown ups should model good eating habits. Make healthy food choices. Turn off the television and put away that phone - this is the hardest part, I know. I grew up having a television facing the dining table so that was a really hard habit to break. The good thing about living in a farm though is that we have a kubo where we can eat with minimal distraction. Although we are not healthy eaters to begin with, my husband and I  now try to make better choices.

6. Skip the purees and let the child feed herself.

There is no need to puree if you have waited until baby is developmentally ready for solid food. Skipping puree means that she will have the chance to chew her food.

Chewing is a precursor to talking. Serve food in manageable pieces that can easily be grasped by little hands. You may offer vegetables and fruits cut into sticks or cubes.

Encourage your child to eat what's on the table but never force her if she is not interested. This may happen often especially if the child is just starting to explore solid food.

If she skips a meal, you may wait until the next solid feeding time to give her something else. Don't obsess on making her finish all the food on her plate either. Understand that food intake can vary per meal. Sometimes they will eat a lot, sometimes not at all. Don't bribe and never beg her to eat.

Be patient. Expect mealtimes to be messy, but don't worry, she will eventually learn to eat neatly if you just let her.

 

7. Offer small, frequent meals.

By the time your toddler starts solid, her stomach is still small. Toddlers are also busy exploring and learning and thus need frequent replenishment of energy-giving food. Because of this, they don't need to eat 3 big meals a day. Give small portions of food then add some more if they ask for it.

8. Offer a variety of natural, fresh, energy-giving, and indigenous food.

Indigenous food are least likely to cause allergies or other ill effects because they are naturally suitable to our climate, culture, and environment. Of course each baby is unique and we should always watch how the body reacts to certain foods. Suggested foods include eggplant, cucumber, squash, papaya, okra, sweet potato, buko, banana, corn, brown rice, mango, and malunggay.
Wondering what else to give baby? Sing Bahay Kubo! But note that mani (and other whole nuts) should not be given when baby is just starting on solids because of choking hazard.

I admit that my daughter eats the occasional treats like cake, chocolate, ice cream, and fast food fries but I'm very careful to never ever give soda, candy or lollipops, chips, and the likes. Will your baby eat every food you offer? Of course not. There are some foods my daughter is not fond of at the moment like egg yolks and shrimps (""It's stinky!"") but it doesn't mean she wouldn't like it in the future. We just need to try and try again next time. 

Remember: everything is an acquired taste, except maybe breastmilk. If baby does not like something the first time, you may try it again after a few weeks.

UPDATE: I've received requests to include the Mix and Match portion of Ms. Velvet's talk so here's the summary:
Mix and Match: To make sure you offer a variety of essential nutrients in a meal, include at least one item of each kind:
  1. Seeds: Very good source of niacin, folate, iron, and zinc. Protein source.
  2. Roots & tubers: The storage bin of plant nutrients.
  3. Sprouts / stems: Sprouts are energy foods full of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
  4. Leaves / flowers: Leaves are the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. Flowers help improve blood circulation to the capillaries and to the brain.
  5. Bunga ng gulay o prutas: Helps in weight management. Contains phytochemicals, fiber, and a lot more.
Mix and Match examples:

White bean soup

  • seed: white beans
  • sprout: white bean sprouts
  • leaves: chinese malunggay
  • root: kamote

Misua

  • root: bombay and garlic
  • vegetable and seeds: patola
  • vegetable: kalabasa
  • leaves: malunggay

9. Involve the child in the preparation or even in growing food.

You may guide your child in doing age-appropriate chores. We started with asking her help in setting the dishes on the table. Recently, she has been enjoying washing dishes. We've also been growing a vegetable garden in our backyard. Letting the kids experience this makes them appreciate the work that goes into growing food and the importance of living sustainably.

 

10. Have your camera ready.

Starting solids is an important milestone in a baby's life so capture it! ^_^  "


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