5 Reasons Why Family Meals Matter

by Sarah on February 16, 2011

Some of my best memories as a child are of sitting around the table together as a family, sharing meals and conversations, discussing plans and daily happenings. Indeed, some of the best memories I’ve created with my husband were made over a thoughtfully prepared meal. Once our son was 6 months old, he too joined us at the family table, providing us with the opportunity to make our own family memories together.

The power of sharing a meal together as a family cannot by underestimated.

Here are a 5 reasons why family meals really are that important.

1. Role Modelling

Family Meals provide the perfect opportunity to model healthy eating behaviours. Young children learn through imitating others, so by showing your children that you eat and enjoy a variety of foods – including fruits and vegetables – you are showing your children how to eat well.

2. Reconnect

The Family Meal is a daily opportunity to get together as a family and share; both a meal and a conversation. With family schedules becoming more hectic by the day, the family meal is a lovely way for the family to get together at the end of a long day and reconnect.

3. Improve Weight Control

Children who regularly eat family meals tend to eat better, eating more fruits and vegetables, than those children that ate fewer family meals. These children also tended to have fewer problems with weight control, with a reduced incidence of overweight and obesity into their adult years.

4. An Opportunity to Teach

Family mealtimes teach children about appropriate meal time behaviour. Sharing a meal together as a family provides an opportunity to teach children proper manners and meal time etiquette. Teaching these behaviours early sets the foundations for more pleasant meal times, making eating out easier and teaching children how to enjoy a meal together as a family.

5. The Power of Conversation

Family meals inevitably involve an element of conversation; a time when individual family members can share the happenings from their day. Even in young children, these mealtime conversations go a long way in helping develop early literacy skills.

Photo Credit: Beverly & Pack

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Feeding Baby: Musings on the first 12 months

by Sarah on February 13, 2011

My son is now a delightful toddler. We ended his first year with a slice of carrot cake, plenty of presents and a party. We raised our glasses and toasted to the amazing little boy that he is. On his first birthday too came the realisation that our baby was no longer a baby, he was now a walking, confident, gorgeous toddler with a full head of hair and a cheeky smile.

My son’s first birthday also gave me time to reflect upon the previous year and the adventure it had been. From breastfeeding to baby-led weaning, it had been a big year – for all of us.

Breastfeeding

My decision to breastfeed my son was a personal decision driven by my desire to nourish my new baby in the best way possible. I was incredibly fortunate that, despite a complete lack of support by hospital staff, I was able to initiate and maintain breastfeeding. Family support, a cooperative baby and my own determination to succeed were all factors that helped establish breastfeeding for us.

I initially wanted to breastfeed for a minimum of 6 months. Once my son reached 6 months of age, we had such a comfortable feeding rhythm going on that I carried on breastfeeding. My son was thriving and happy and I was in a position that I was able to have the time needed with him to continue breastfeeding into the second 6 months of his life. Even now – at 13 months of age – we still enjoy the morning and evening breastfeed. It is a special bonding time for us and a time that neither of us are quite ready to give up yet.

I never could have anticipated, however, the physical toll that breastfeeding would take on my body. Breastfeeding is so demanding of your time and your energy that there were days when I felt I couldn’t carry on feeding my son in this way any longer. In those early months when you are feeding on demand – at times up to 12 times per day – when you are in a taxi or a supermarket and your baby is crying to be fed again, it can be very draining. There are days when you find yourself thinking, “Do I have to get my breasts out again?”. Then it happens. Your baby gets bigger, they start solids, they demand milk less and then they turn one and you find yourself wondering where on earth the first year went (and how did I ever breastfeed for so long?).

Baby-Led Weaning

Making the decision on exactly how to start my son on solids was – on my part – wrought with confusion and anxiety. It was only by accident one day, whilst doing an Internet search on baby food that I came across a personal blog in which the writer mentioned that she was following BLW with her second child. BLW? I was confused. What was BLW? A quick search turned up the phrase Baby Led Weaning. A couple of weeks later I was in the bookstore, saw a copy of the Baby-Led Weaning book by Gill Rapley and bought a copy on the spot.

Initially I was intrigued at the idea that a healthy baby didn’t actually need all of those super smooth baby food purees and mashes. How can they learn to eat if they only start out playing with their food and not being spoon-fed? It seemed to go against common wisdom.

Baby-Led Weaning piqued my interest, it made me read and read and read some more. It pushed me to find out more, ask more questions and delve a little bit deeper into the research.

These are the conclusions that I came to:

If you wait to until your baby is developmentally ready to start solids – typically around 6 months of age – then they are physically capable of handling more solid foods (as opposed to runny purees).

That generally babies will do what is easiest for them. If a baby is used to ‘drinking’ their food – via smooth purees – then they will find the transition to lumpier and more solid textures challenging and frustrating.

It is with experience that babies learn to eat. Babies need to be given the opportunity to experiment with food. They need to be allowed to get messy, play with their food, lick, poke and taste different foods. Given that eating is a learned behaviour babies need to be given plenty of opportunities to practice their developing mouth skills and Baby Led Weaning is a great way for babies to do this.

The Gag Reflex is there for a reason. Gagging is different from choking. The gag reflex is your baby’s way of clearing food from the back to the front of the mouth. As your baby gets better at eating they will tend to gag less.

Just be Positive. No Pressure.

The ability to relax with feeding, enjoy the process and never put any pressure on my son to eat are – hands down – the biggest lessons I have learnt in the first year of my son’s life.

My husband and I have tried never to fuss over food. We want our son to enjoy food and so we try to remain positive. We don’t fuss if he doesn’t eat something or if a meal ends up on the floor (no matter how frustrating!). We sit down as a family and enjoy our meal together. We talk about how good our food tastes and appreciate that our son has his own taste preferences and therefore his own food likes and dislikes.

We also follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding and have found this approach to work beautifully. We know that we can’t force our son to eat but we can provide him with a healthy eating environment and plenty of opportunities to try new foods.

The result?

As a delightful 1 year old, our son is a super eater. He is content to sit in his highchair to eat his meals. He happily picks and chooses what he will eat from what is on offer. He always eats his fruit before his vegetables and vegetables are always consumed before protein. He is a joy to take out to restaurants and friends and family derive equal amounts of joy watching him eat. He is our little food man.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learnt when feeding your little ones?

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In case you missed it, Australia’s Channel Seven aired a segment on The Morning Show on Monday February 7 titled, “Breast versus Bottle” once again fueling the fires of the breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding debate. You can view the clip here.

Personally, I’m a bit tired of this debate. I am a firm believer in the value of breastfeeding and – where possible – encourage breastfeeding as the gold standard for feeding babies in their first year of life.

The breast versus bottle argument aside, the main point of the segment was about oral health in infants and toddlers. The main problem being that bottle feeding can cause dental problems in young children – even children as young as 12 months old.

What is the link between bottle feeding and tooth decay?

Bottle feeding means that the liquid (commonly milk or juice) is being kept against the teeth for long hours, especially in older infants and toddlers who are put to bed with a bedtime bottle and those who are allowed to freely suck on a bottle throughout the day. Combine this with the reduction in saliva production over night and in some children these practices can cause a high degree of tooth decay.

It is important to keep in mind that whilst the experts aren’t outright dismissing bottle-feeding they are highlighting that it is important that young children are not left to suck on a bottle for extended periods of time as it is the sweetened liquid against the teeth that can contribute to the development of tooth decay.

Associate Professor Richard Widmer made the following recommendations:

Breastfeed if possible.

Avoid prolonged bottle feeding at night.

Avoid replenishing the bottle throughout the night with a sweet liquid (baring in mind that milk contains lactose – the main form of sugar in milk).

Don’t leave the bottle in bed at night for a prolonged period of time.

The Go for Your Life initiative in Australia further recommends:

To avoid using a baby’s bottle for comfort and to encourage your child to drink from a cup from around six months of age.

Developing a regular tooth cleaning routine as soon as your child’s first tooth appears.

What do you think? How do you care for your little one’s teeth?

Further reading:

Why no sweet drinks for children – Go for Your Life

Image Credit: PFly

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Is some food good?

by Sarah on November 18, 2010

Here is an interesting question that I was recently sent by a class of grade 1 and 2 primary school students, who are currently learning more about food, fitness and health.

“We are learning about food and fitness and we want to know why are some
foods healthy and some foods not healthy? Do you have an answer to our
question? We also want to know what makes a healthy food turn into junk
food?”

What makes a food good for us?

A ‘healthy’ food is any food that provides a range of nutrients that helps our bodies to grow and develop normally. Nutrients can include substances such as vitamins and minerals, proteins and healthy fats, wholegrains, fibre and antioxidants that keep our bodies working normally, that fuel our daily activity, provide the building blocks needed to help us grow and that feed our brains and our bellies. A healthy food, as well as providing essential nutrients, is also one that does not make us sick or harm our bodies.

What makes a food unhealthy?

Foods that do not provide our body with many of the nutrients needed to help our bodies function everyday – things like excess sugar, salt and bad fats – are considered unhealthy. Unhealthy foods can also harm our bodies and do not make us feel well and full of energy. Sometimes foods contain other nasties, things like artificial colours and flavours, additives, artifical sweetners and chemical fillers, that also are not good for our bodies.

How junk food can be disguised as healthy food

Sometimes healthy foods – like potatoes for example – can be cooked in a way that means it is not so good for our bodies anymore. For example, when potatoes are thinly sliced, deep fried in oil and covered in salt to make potato chips they are no longer as good for our bodies as they were if we had made a baked potato and topped it with fresh tomato salsa. Even though the potato chips still contain some potato they also provide our bodies with extra bad fats and salt which does not help our bodies to grow and stay healthy.

Kids – what are some examples of foods that are good for our bodies? Do you know why these foods are good for us?

Photo Credit: Aylanah

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Food. With a little one to feed everyday, food is never far from my mind. It doesn’t really help much either that I am also trained in nutrition so I tend to be thinking about food – a lot.

I am going to start regularly posting daily meal plans adapted for older babies and toddlers. My intention with these meal plans is to give parents some new ideas for meals for their little ones. I know what it is like to have to constantly come up with ideas for baby friendly meals and – especially once my son started eating more – I have had to become even more organised with his meals.

I am not posting these meal plans with serving sizes for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am trying to support my son’s ability to self-regulate his food intake. I do this by offering him developmentally appropriate foods and allowing him to choose how much (if any) to eat. I don’t push him to eat if he doesn’t want to. Secondly, at this age there is so much variation between babies – some babies are active and crawling, maybe even walking, other’s not so – that food intake is going to be very different between babies. Lastly, food intake is also going to be affected by the volume of milk intake. My son is not so interested in taking much breastmilk anymore and much prefers to be eating food. I know other babies however, who still prefer to take a larger volume of milk than solid foods.

Here’s what’s on the menu for my boy today.

Milk

Breakfast
Apple and Cinnamon Oatmeal
Fresh sliced strawberries
Water

Milk

Lunch
Chicken and Apple Meatballs
Roast Sweet Potato Fries
Banana
Water

Milk

Snack (sometimes)
Diced Peaches

Dinner
Pumpkin Risotto
Steamed Peas and Carrots
Plain Greek Style Yogurt
Water

Milk

What are your little ones eating?

photo credit: o5com

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November? Already? Goodness.

November 1, 2010

Today I woke up and realised that it is November. I’m still in a state of shock over this fact. When people tell you that the first year with a baby will fly by they never tell you just how quick that first year will go – and it is so quick, too quick – […]

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5 Iron-Rich Food Ideas for Babies and Toddlers

October 24, 2010

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Wholewheat Molasses Teething Biscuits

October 14, 2010

Teething can be a slow and painful process for many babies. My little one seemed to teethe for months before his two bottom teeth finally came through two months ago. We’re back in the thick of teething again at the moment as my son dribbles and chews on anything within reach – toys, books, teething […]

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Around the web

October 10, 2010

Strawberry-Peach Freezer Smoothies at Food for my Family Easy Oatmeal Bars (for big kids) at Weekly Bite To Promote Veggies, Ask Not Why but Why Not? at Little Stomaks Eat to Learn! Apples for Brainpower at ZisBoomBah Nutrient Rich Halloween Treats at Super Healthy Kids Photo Credit: MrHayata

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Introducing solids: foods to avoid

October 9, 2010

Despite the recent changes in recommendations around introducing potentially allergenic foods into the infant diet, there still remains a number of foods that need to be avoided by infants under the age of 12 months. These include: Honey Honey must not be given to infants under the age of 12 months. Honey can be infected […]

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