Have you met this month’s Locally Grown featured business owner Vickie Promenzio? Vickie is the owner of Nature Walk Montessori School in Round Lake. She is here today with a guest post sharing some information on feeding and nutrition, and how it effects your child’s growth and development.
Do you worry that your newborn is not getting enough milk? Or come up with new tricks every day to make sure your toddler accepts a speck of food? Do you plead, demand, bargain and offer rewards? Do you fear your picky preschooler needs more variety in his diet? Few things bring so much stress to us parents as our young children’s eating habits. Social pressure doesn’t help: breastmilk vs. formula, eating too much or too little, grazing vs. sit-down meals. There is no one-size-fits-all answer and every family must decide what works for them, but one thing is true: feeding encompasses much more than nutritional intake; it is an act of connecting and communicating, a means to learning self-care, responsibility and social skills.
In the first weeks of life a communication pattern develops as we learn to read our baby’s cues. It is our responsibility to recognize and respect when our baby is hungry, how fast or for how long she needs to nurse, how much to offer, when to take a break, and when to stop. In turn, our baby will fix her eyes on ours as we feed, focusing on our facial traits, extending her arms, and using body language to express comfort or discomfort. As our baby is fed on demand, a bond of love and trust emerges. Our baby feels safe, knowing that we are there for her.
Sometime in her first year our baby will be ready for solid food. As milk continues to provide all the nutrients our baby needs, the introduction of solids is not about adding calories but exploring textures, learning to chew and swallow, experimenting a variety of flavors and consistencies, and strengthening the muscles in the mouth (oral-motor development). In the words of Registered Nutritionist Ellyn Satter “The point is NOT to get food into your baby. She is getting plenty of nourishment from her breastmilk or formula. It is to introduce her to the notion of eating different food, in a different way. Stow your agenda, and don’t get pushy or you will spoil the fun for both of you!”
In the meantime, connecting with our now toddler continues to be the most important goal. So, how can we make sure our child gets the proper nutrition while maintaining the quality of our relationship? By gradually handing over the job of feeding to the child. Finger foods, and the use of a chubby spoon for thick purees ensures success in the task of self-feeding. This must be accompanied by the use of a weaning table and chair (low furniture that our child can get in and out of independently). Now that our toddler is in charge of his own eating, we can focus on understanding how much he really needs to eat. A simple rule to help: all food must be eaten at the table. If our toddler wants to walk away, he needs to put his food down. If he repeatedly walks away, his actions tell us that he is no longer hungry. At this point, he can help clean up by taking his plate to the sink, washing, wiping the table, or sweeping the floor. These are all actions that young children love doing and make them feel confident. If your child is older and still munching on snacks all over the house, don’t panic! It’s never too late to start. I made the move to “all food at the table” when my daughters were 4 and 1 and we moved to a new house. The desire to keep my family room free of crumbs was my strongest motivation.
Another way to let children play an active role in their own nutrition is to include them in food preparation and service, grocery shopping, and even gardening. If they grow it, purchase it, or cook it, they are much more likely to eat it! This is a central aspect of food service in Nature Walk Montessori School. Children as young as one peel eggs and clementines and slice bananas and cheese in the Parent-Infant Community, with the help of the teacher and the use of safe, child-sized, but REAL utensils (crinkle cutters and spreaders make the best knives). Every week, children follow a routine of setting the table, sitting down to eat, and cleaning up after themselves. During the community snack service, toddlers are allowed to have as many servings of food as they need, or none at all. For drinking, they are offered an individual, small pitcher of water and an open cup so they may pour their own drink. Small sponges are available for children to clean any spills. Snack proceeds in a relaxed manner, letting children connect with their inner sense of hunger and satiation. In the Children’s House, preschoolers decide when they need food. At this point, they take a break in their daily activities, set their place at the table, prepare and serve themselves a snack, eat and clean up by putting scraps in the compost bin, and washing their plate and picking up any crumbs. One of the classroom rules is that they must always leave things as they found them so another child may use them; a rule of trust and respect.
Does mealtime always run smoothly if we follow these guidelines? It depends on our expectations. In our classrooms, children are encouraged to try new food items, but are always respected if they choose not to eat them. If someone eats many servings of the same item, they are reminded that other children might want to have some. If a preschooler plays with his food, or exhibits any other inappropriate behavior, we understand they are not hungry anymore and remind them it’s time to clean up. And, because we always make a point to not waste food, we may suggest packing the leftovers to take home. These resources allow us to place emphasis in our relationship of trust towards the children. Ellyn Satter calls this approach “Division of Responsibility” and states that it’s the parents’ responsibility to decide what, when and where to eat, but the child is solely responsible for how much, and whether or not to eat. By handing to our children the task of feeding themselves, we have given them an important skill that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Later this month, read as Jessica shares her experience enjoying the great outdoors with Nature Walk Montessori School. For a free trial class in the Parent-Infant Community, register and choose “Free Trial Class” from the menu. The Parent-Infant class dates are listed in the same page. Nature Walk is also offering a summer camp early bird special right now: 10% off tuition if you register by March 31st and an additional 10% off if you register for all four sessions. Nature Immersion Summer Camp information is available here.
Disclosure: Nature Walk Montessori School is our featured Locally Grown Business of the Month. This series of features is part of a paid partnership with Little Lake County. Contact littlelakecounty[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested in featuring your own locally-owned business in our monthly series.