Self-feeding is the most important milestone in a child’s development. It is crucial during the learning process of eating. The change from spoon-feeding to self-feeding is challenging for many parents, as the duration of the transition process varies from child to child. The self-feeding initially starts with the child trying to grasp a lot of food with their hands between the palm and fingers but end up spilling most of the food due to improper holding. Only a little reaches the mouth. Then they learn to hold the food with all five fingers and later comes the pincer grasp.
Pincer grasp and child development
The pincer grasp is the hold between thumb and forefinger. Pincer grasp takes time and requires a lot of practice & patience. The floor is the best teacher when it comes to pincer grasp, Spill the food grains or dal on the clean floor, they will practice by collecting it. It is the skill that helps in holding a pencil or pen while writing. It plays a key role in developing fine motor skills in children.
While self-feeding, the child not only chews and swallows the food, but they explore and the food stimulates all the senses. When touching the food, they explore various textures of food; aroma stimulates the sense of smell and ultimately the sense of taste. Self-feeding is a long term relationship between the child and the food. Parents often need guidance on how to start with self-feeding. This article renders some ideas on how to get started.
1. Presentation is everything:
It starts with investing in a plate that has three or four partitions and few sets of colorful bowls along with spoons. Change the bowl in a rotational basis for offering soups, salads and fruits to avoid boredom for the child. After the plate comes the presentation of food. Make sure to offer two-colored vegetables in the plate. For example carrot, beetroots, pumpkin, capsicum, cucumber are all colorful vegetables. Also try including two to three different tastes daily like sweet, sour, spicy or bitter. A fruit, curd and two vegetables would suffice. Various textures like hard, crunchy and soft can also be given to entertain the kid. For instance, soft foods like rice & dhal and vegetables, crunchy finger foods like fryums/ vadams, hard foods are meat. This makes the child get expose to variations instead of going with same bland food. Build their interest in the food with various colors, tastes and textures introduced in the plate in a much appealing presentation. Offering Dosa, chapathis and pooris in different shapes to make the children curious about the food is another easy-peasy way to make them interested in food.
2. Stick to a routine:
It is very important to follow a routine when starting a new habit for the children. During the initial days, start to offer food after the same day to day activities like napping and a nice warm bath. This ensures that the child has a good appetite. Also, use their same favorite dinnerware like a plate, sippy cups, bowls and high chair. It is also important to sit in the same place daily, preferably where the family has the food.
3. Acknowledge, it reflects:
“Being told you are appreciated is one of the simplest And most uplifting things you can hear”
Human mind always yearns for appreciation and acknowledgment. Children are not a limitation for that. In fact, children are attention seekers. So, whenever your child completes a meal, be it a full bowl or half plate or just a mouthful, don’t fail to appreciate by small tokens of love like a hug, a kiss or even a smile that the small fists need. This makes the child interested and motivated in food every time they see it.
4. Start with finger foods:
As discussed earlier the stages of self- feeding, children need finger foods to develop a pincer grasp. Finger foods are mostly vegetables and fruits which are cut vertically to be held by the child easily. Carrots, beets, potato, broccoli, banana, apple, mango and papaya can be offered as finger foods. Veggies can be cut and boiled before offering. This is useful while the baby is teething to soothe the gums, by freezing the veggies/fruits in the refrigerator before giving. It often requires a lot of continuous effort and doesn’t happen overnight.
5. Act smart:
This is something interesting for both the parents and the child. We need innovative and smart ideas to make the child love food and self-feeding in the long run. Do some knick-knacks and get creative. For instance, make colorful dosas and idlis with beetroot, carrot and spinach purees. Cut the vegetables like beets, carrots and spinach, grind them and add to the batter to get colorful and flavorful dosa, idlis, chapathis, pooris and the list never ends. Children love colors and get stimulated automatically.
They can be added as small cubes to dosa batter to make idlis, Kids find it interesting to explore their food and know about their daily vegetables. Children love and enjoy the process, at the same time gain nutrition simultaneously. This can be tried in chapathis, pooris and parathas by grinding and adding beetroots, spinach, carrots.
Having said lots of tried and tested methods to start self-feeding; parents must also not forget that, Quality of food is more important than Quantity. Overeating or forced eating will cause food aversion. The root of growth is happy and mindful eating. So, don’t stress yourself a lot. The place may become messy, the child may get growth spurts, teething and even reject whole food, but what we need as parents are patience. Take time and enjoy with the child, because if not now they will automatically learn to eat one day. Instead of making it a burden, take it slowly and successfully.
Enjoy the process!!