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I looked forward to introducing solid foods to my son. So many fun experiences come with trying new foods. I was also aware that many new challenges come with this. I wanted to avoid as many of these problems as possible. In their book, “Babywise II” Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D. stress the importance of beginning as you mean to go on. They point out that it is much easier to start a habit from the get-go than to try adding it later when bad habits are already developed. I wanted meals to be a time for me to teach patience, manners, and social skills. I knew that following a mealtime routine from the very beginning would help to create a structure to teach these lessons.
In order to create my routine, I asked myself a few questions. What do I want mealtime to look like when he is older? Will I allow him to play with his food? Will I expect him to stay at the table until we are all finished? And so on. After I had a picture of what my goal was, I began to devise our mealtime routine. I picked up a few ideas from “Babywise II” and added a some of my own to create our routine.
- High chair. I put him in the high chair while I prepare food for both of us. I started doing this simply so I could have him in a safe place while I prepared the food. Now I realize that this also teaches him patience. He knows food is coming, but he also knows that he needs to wait. I sometimes talk to him about what I’m doing, but most of the time he just watches me or looks around the kitchen. (If you’re looking for a great high chair, try this one.)
- Pray. In my family, we believe that it is important to pray to thank God for our meals before eating them. The baby listens while I pray.
- Bib. I wait to put the bib on until right before I’m going to feed him so that he doesn’t play with it. (We really like these silicone bibs, because they are so easy to clean!)
- Say please. This is his first practice time with manners. I take his hand and guide him to do say “please” in sign language.
- Eat. I talk to him while we eat so he can learn social skills. I trade off giving bites to him and myself. This is another time he is learning patience. While we eat, I make sure that he keeps his hands down to avoid making messes. When he tries to grab the spoon, or shove the dirty bib in his mouth, I say, “Uh-oh!” and gently hold his hands down next to his legs for a few seconds. I smile at him and tell him that he needs to keep his hands out of the way. (This may sound crazy, but he is 6 months old now, and he has improved in keeping his hands down since we started 2 months ago! Babies can learn these things!)
- All done! Thank you! When everyone is finished with their meal he says “all done” and “thank you” in sign language. Right now, I take his hands and help him do the signs. Eventually, I will expect him to do the signs on his own, and when he can talk, to say the words.
- Take off the bib and clean his face
Soon enough we will start giving him some finger foods. In order to avoid confusion about when he needs to keep his hands down, we’ll give him the purees first. He will already know to keep his hands out of the way for this part. His meals will end with finger foods.
So there you have it! You may decide to do something quite different from what we do. That’s great! Each family is unique. Just ask yourself what your end goals are and what you can do now to get there. If you didn’t start a routine at the beginning, but want to now, go for it! Make a plan and give yourself and your baby at least two weeks to get used to it. Happy eating and good luck!