Mealtime is an important part of the day for babies and toddlers. It's a great opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits, while also providing an opportunity for developmentally appropriate play. By making mealtimes fun, parents can make sure that their little ones are getting the nutrition they need while still having a good time.
How do children develop their physical skills during mealtime?
Fine motor skills are the capacity to use the smaller muscles in our hands and wrists to complete a task. Now, our gross motor skills are those skills that involve the whole body — your core muscles (think belly and back) and the muscles of your arms and legs.
Most of us don't think about these motions since they naturally occur. However, developing fine motor abilities is complex and requires daily exploration and practice. In addition, coordination between the brain and the muscles is needed.
Fine motor skills examples:
- Holding a Toothbrush, Pencil or Spoon
- Using a Keyboard, or a Guitar
- Using Scissors, Rulers, and other tools
- During daily tasks such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth.
Gross motor skills examples:
- Lifting (A Spoon, A Hairbrush - They all count!)
- Sitting Down
One of the most obvious ways children develop their core muscles is by practising sitting down! Their sitting position is essential to improve their mobility and prevent falls. As your child sits on the chair, they must bend their knees and ankles, and straighten their thighs and hips to build muscle and flexibility, which allows their feet to be securely placed on a firm surface.
Now, the best position for your little one should be sitting with their hips, knees, and ankles all bent at 90 degrees.
Exploring tools and materials
With the right tools, you can make mealtimes enjoyable for both you and your baby. Not only does this tool help keep messes to a minimum, but it can also provide opportunities for your baby to practice their motor skills!
Introduce some cutlery each mealtime; even if you have chosen to spoon-feed your baby, take turns dipping the spoon in the food! Your little one may attempt to put their spoon in their mouths, upside down or the wrong way round at first.
Keep the experience positive!
As your little one plays with the cutlery and a cup, they explore and learn how to hold and use it, strengthening their muscles. As they age, they will begin to use their fingers in a pincer hold, resulting in improved control.
Don't forget your little one also learns by exploring and watching your actions, motions, movements and expressions. This is why we need to make mealtimes a family occasion; this way, your little one learns from you and the rest of the family!
In addition, mealtimes are an excellent opportunity for children to practice and enhance their gross motor skills because they allow them to self-serve their food. Letting children serve themselves is a good idea, as this will help them establish independence and control over their bigger movements.
Your little one will benefit from using a small water jug to serve their drink and large spoons for the food.
Begin by providing an empty cup (even if it is a Sippy cup) and a plate.
- Next, use a small jug to carefully pour some water into the cup and close it for them. Your baby
- might not be able to pour their drink yet, but they are learning the process of filling and pouring.
- Then, let them watch you scoop some food into their plates with the large spoon. Why don't you hold their hand and try doing it together next time?
As your little one grows, they will begin attempting to pour their drink and serve their food, strengthening their muscles and building confidence and independence!
The sensory experiences mealtimes bring to the table are equally valuable in developing their sense of touch, smell, and taste and teaching them about the world surrounding them.
Mealtime can also be used as an opportunity for sensory exploration by introducing different textures or colours of food into a meal. They may experience many sensations - everything from the texture of the fruit skin to the juiciness when eating it. It also helps them to figure out their likes and dislikes too!
Talk to your little one about what they're seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and experiencing! For example, if your baby has a slice of orange, you could talk about its shape, colour and taste. Then, as they eat it, add some keywords or sounds describing their texture or flavour. For instance, create slurping sounds, "Slurp slurp, the orange is juicy!". "Mmm yum, yum!" smile and rub your tummy to demonstrate positive relationships with food to your little one.
Encourage your child to feel the texture of their food; it might turn into a messy business but don't get discouraged by this; your little one will love using their hands and fingers, making this time enjoyable and memorable. Set out a few bites at a time instead of a huge helping to help minimise the mess, and rather than giving a big bowl of yoghurt, put a few spoonfuls in a cup. When they finish it, offer them more.
So, explore the textures together; for example, orange skin may be rough, smooth, or cold, whereas other foods may be mushy, crunchy, hard or soft. Finally, allowing them to investigate their food is an excellent way to develop their sense of touch.
Your little one needs to understand the importance of hygiene early on, so make it a part of your routine!
Make sure your little one washes their hands before and after eating. If they have just started weaning, you can still take them to the sink to wash their hands or if more manageable, use a wet cloth. Explain why we must wash our hands, "We have been playing; our hands are now dirty and yucky", and "There are germs in our hands that might give us a tummy ache."
It is essential to make healthy choices as an adult and child. And is important to get them excited about their nutritional choices from the start!
Use mealtimes as opportunities to talk about what is on your plate. Name and describe what you are eating, the shapes, textures colours to encourage your little one to do the same and get interested in their food.
Eating is a social activity that helps children learn to interact with others, while also providing them with essential nutrition. Talk about the superpower that is inside our foods, vitamins! Explain that vitamins in food help us get big and strong; for instance, "the vitamin in milk and cheese is called calcium; it allows our bones and teeth to stay strong"; invite them to feel their bones and teeth, describe their texture and how they help us stand tall, run, and eat.
Discuss what would happen if we didn't have strong bones or if we didn't have any bones at all! Use this opportunity to talk about the body and how important it is to keep it healthy.
Fruit and vegetables are part of a healthy, balanced diet and can help you stay healthy. So, we must eat enough of them! Describe the 5-a-day campaign and the significant health benefits of getting at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables daily.
Why not make it a game to see who eats 5 different portions of fruits and vegetables during the day; you can make it into a friendly competition!
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