Let’s talk about kids & food, Mamas! It’s a new year, and we’re ready to build confidence and actually ENJOY mealtime with kids. As parents, we are constantly searching for expert advice on all things related to raising our children. So, we sat down with Janae Grimshaw, a local South Bay mom, Lactation Consultant and pediatric occupational feeding specialist from The Mother Nurture Network for some guidance on establishing positive mealtimes. In her career, Janae is often consulted to help with a variety of feeding concerns including breastfeeding struggles, introducing solids, dealing with picky toddlers and addressing weight gain or allergy issues.
Can you share with us the best way to feed a child?
The truth is, like may parenting topics, there really isn’t a ‘best’ way!
Part of my work as a feeding specialist includes helping families navigate what will work best within the uniqueness of their family. From feeding your baby in the first weeks to the progression and development of oral motor skills and determining what foods are safe, all of these factors will lead to establishing positive mealtimes. It’s important to understand that what works well for one family or child may not necessarily work well for another.
At what age should parents start establishing mealtime routines?
If you are already a parent, the answer is NOW! Families can face many challenges with feeding early on and breastfeeding can be difficult for many new parents. I always encourage early lactation support (especially a prenatal breastfeeding class for both mom and dad-to-be) to get feeding off to a good start and reduce the risk of concerns such as pain when feeding, milk supply or weight gain issues. As natural as breastfeeding is, it’s not always easy and parents may not be able to feed their child the way they intended or expected. The emotional impact from early feeding struggles can be difficult and can create lingering stress surrounding feeding and mealtimes if not addressed early on.
As babies develop and transition to solids, I encourage families to embrace a holistic approach to feeding. Eating is more than just putting food in our mouths. Mealtimes are when children establish many early developmental patterns including oral motor skills, social skills and a variety of sensory experiences. Mealtimes also play a role in developing psychosocial skills including the development of self-confidence. Families have a great influence on their baby’s psychosocial development. So, although there is not one “right” way to feed a child, there most definitely is a way that will work best for your family.
If you are experiencing anxiety or stress related to your child’s feeding or mealtime routine, I encourage you to seek expert support. Every family – and child – is unique. Often the feeding information most easily found is geared towards marketing specific products, which are usually unnecessary. Families usually already have everything they need and finding mealtime routines that work for you often requires no more than tapping into your own intuition and following your child’s lead.
Do you have any tips for feeding toddlers?
My favorite tip for toddler eating is to get them involved! Toddlers like to feel productive and they want to engage. Allowing them to eat foods with their hands is a great way to do this. I love to feed my toddler unexpected foods like artichoke, or to simply peel the top skin off an avocado and allow him to handle the whole food.
What about desserts? What’s your take on introducing sweets to children?
This can actually be a complex and controversial topic, with many layers affecting health. Personally, I’m a big fan of normalizing sugar and sweets from the start. There is a lot of support cross culturally and in the literature to support early introduction of sugar. Restrictions can backfire and so can waiting or avoiding certain foods that we have deemed ‘bad.’ Having said that, we also need to be diligent and make sure we aren’t loading baby up with foods with hidden sugars. As with most things in life, balance is key!
Do you have any final tips for parents?
I encourage parents to take a more relaxed approach to feeding. Allow your children to use their hands – not fancy utensils – and partake in eating the way that comes naturally to them. If things get messy and there are smiles or laughter, you are doing great!
Janae Grimshaw, MSOT, OTR/L, SWC, CPMT, IBCLC is an Occupational Therapist with a specialized background in pediatric development and advanced training and certification in feeding and swallowing (SWC) as well as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has a holistic therapy approach and a wide variety of advanced training and certifications. With nearly 15 years of experience working with families in medical settings such as Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and privately throughout the LA area, Janae loves supporting and strengthening each unique caregiver-child dyad.
Details on all of Janae’s services from breastfeeding support groups and in-home OT feeding consultations to her Starting Solids workshop can be found at The Mother Nurture Network.