Giving Kids the Right Start by Involving them in Mealtimes

It’s an interesting fact that as the food on your little one’s plate becomes more textured to meet their dietary needs, they become increasingly fascinated by the ingredients that are part and parcel of breakfast, lunch and supper.

Suddenly requests to help with cooking become commonplace and moms often find themselves handing over bites of their own meals, in response to pleas from toddlers for a taste of what they’re eating.

The Right Start

According to leading Johannesburg dietitian, Slava De Gouveia, the reason for this is simply that children begin to show more interest in food in their second year of life. “Parents may notice that their children become pickier about what they eat and strangely, toddlers seem to eat less when compared to their first year of life. What’s important to note is that eating habits formed in this early phase often persist for years, if not for life, so teaching toddlers healthy eating habits is imperative,” says De Gouveia.

“It’s clear that the way we go about introducing our little ones to the varied and delicious world of food, is key to their approach to their diets well into adulthood. If children take the time to understand all the work and effort it takes to put food on their plates they are more likely to eat it, which is why we recommend getting back to basics. Planting a veggie garden, by way of example, is an excellent way to get kids involved in mealtimes. If they grow their own food, they are more likely to eat it,” adds distributor of Philips AVENT, Astrid Anderson.

Down to Earth

Planting a vegetable or even simply a herb garden allows children to learn where their greens come from and how they grow. “Allow your child to water the patch themselves and even pull out weeds. This teaches them responsibility and ownership. When the time comes, let your child pick and wash the fruit, vegetables or herbs to be used in the meal preparation and involve your child as much as possible,” advises De Gouveia.

Guiding Food Choices

Parents should guide a child’s food choices, but allow them to determine what and how much they eat. It is important to allow some independence at this age and not to force feed, which can cause stubbornness. De Gouveia gives the following useful tips:

  • Cut foods, like sandwiches, fruit and veg, into different shapes or let your child cut the shapes with cookie cutters
  • Arrange foods on the plate in funny shapes, or let your child design their own picture before sitting down to eat. For example, arrange peas, carrots and meatballs on top of mashed potato to make a face, or use pasta as the hair and meat balls and veg to create the eyes, nose and mouth
  • Serve fruit and veg skewers, which your child can help prepare with supervision
  • Create ice-lollies from 100% fruit juice or yogurt and add chopped up fruit pieces
  • Make jelly and add chopped up fruit and even a biscuit before setting
  • Serve bread sticks with dips, which can include smooth cottage cheese, hummus or puréed fruit or vegetables
  • Allow your child to help prepare ingredients. Appropriate tasks include: tearing lettuce, washing fruit and vegetables, sprinkling grated cheese, combining salad ingredients and shaping mince into meat balls
  • Encourage your child to take his/her plate to the sink when they are finished eating and to help clear the table once everyone is finished eating


At this age, children want to eat what everyone around them is enjoying, so they may often reach out and grab food. This is the perfect opportunity for parents to set a good example by ensuring that what is on their plates and on the dinner table is healthy. By providing your little one with fun and interactive utensils, bowls and plates such as the Philips AVENT mealtime set with an anti-slip base and an easy to grip knife and deep scoop spoon and fork, toddlers will look forward to serving themselves.

In addition, De Gouveia recommends allowing children to feed themselves. While this may be the messier alternative it allows them independence. “Allow children to dish up for themselves, offer a variety of healthy foods like vegetables, lean protein rich foods and whole grain starches and let your child choose what he wants to eat. Do not panic if they do not dish up a little bit of everything. At this age, their eating habits are erratic but they balance out over the course of the week.”

Healthy Alternatives

If planting a garden is not possible, take your child out on family outings to nearby farms or at the very least, fresh food markets. Don’t let the golden opportunity of getting children involved in your mealtimes pass you by. If food is the language of love, your children will love getting involved in family mealtimes.

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