A Heart for Toddlers - Food

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Dr Emmi Pikler had this wonderful saying,  “Food should always be a pleasure”.  

Babies thrive on breast milk, the most nutritious food - but that is not all. Babies thrive on the closeness and warmth of the embrace when they are feeding. They thrive because they can tune into that drum-beat of Life they grew with in the womb, the heart-beat.

The heart-beat of Love

This heart-beat is the beat of love. It is the beginning of this child’s love life. Without this closeness relationships will never be easy for a little person. Closeness and warmth nourish the baby’s soul, and this can be done when you bottle feed too.

Then there comes a time in every baby’s life when he or she needs solid food added to their diet, nutritious foods that are the building blocks for a healthy body and brain. 

Being put in a highchair means the end of this close mealtime pleasure for most of our babies… and we decide when that close physical nurturing will end.

Both Maria Montessori and Emmi Pikler, advocated that it is up to the baby to choose when he or she will get down from the lap and join in meals at the table. Typically, that is around 12 – 14 months, the start of the toddler years. Just as it happens in cultures where they do not have high chairs. Babies are fed from the warmth of the lap, and join the family at the table or the mat when they feel they are ready. 

Food is one of the major ways that you build trust and respect with your toddler.

A toddler does not know if they like it until they have tried it. Every toddler will let you know if they do not like a certain food, and they will let you know when they have had enough.

Will you listen to what your toddler is telling you? Or will you ignore what they want and cajole and trick them into doing what you want? Every mealtime is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your trust in your toddler’s wisdom, and to respect them as an equal human being.

Your response to your toddler’s messages to you decides whether your toddler will end up fighting you around food … or not.

“Not one spoonful more”. 

Would you like to be force-fed food you do not like, or force-fed more when you have had enough? 

When you respect your child and listen to the messages they give you, they in turn learn respect; and when you trust them, they learn trust. That means, that just like you, your toddler will want to decide when he or she is ready for the next mouthful. Emmi Pikler carefully guided the nurses and parents - not one spoonful more!

And you can rest assured. Research shows that toddlers do not starve themselves to death if they are offered nutritious foods, and if they can choose what they eat and how much. On the contrary, they grow into little connoisseurs who really appreciate their food.

How would you like it?

I haven’t met any adults who prefer their water or their wine out of plastic cups. So why do we give plastic to our toddlers? Don’t we trust them to learn to how to behave with a glass?

Plastic sipper cups ‘tell’ toddlers we don’t trust them. They encourage toddlers to be clumsy and rough, instead of careful and elegant.

Not too many of us prefer to eat our meals from plastic plates either. While some parents and grand-parents honour children by serving food on their best china, glass is equally suitable.  Glass allows the child to see the colours and the texture of the meal. Mmmm, strawberry and apple. This obviously asks for a designated place, like a low table, to avoid toddlers running around with glasses in their hands as we often see toddlers walking around  with sipper cups.  

Toddlers usually want to dine with the family and friends around the table, or the mat. They want to join the family in the important ritual of sharing food for the pleasure of their company.

Life’s pleasure

We grown-ups love a meal, simple or sumptuous, that is eaten slowly, in good company, where you can eat till you have had enough, or help yourself to more. Such dining is one of life's pleasures. True nourishment. 

The same applies to children.

The starting place for the feeding of infants and children is that “eating should always be a pleasure”. 

Ideally your garden is providing plentiful harvests. Preparing and making food with children is one of the most meaningful and purposeful experiences to engage in. We made our own pesto, lemon honey, bread, egg spread and lots more with the children every day. Lunch time was a leisurely ‘family style’ affair with set tables, cutlery, conversation and less time pressure. Mealtimes are the ideal time to incorporate a ritual. This is when we can connect at heart level. How are your mealtimes prepared?

Want more? Check out our new toolkit "A Heart for Toddlers".