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500 Seconds to Dinner: Focusing on Mealtimes
By Tracey Smith

One of the most difficult things to conquer is getting the little ones to concentrate on their mealtimes. I present to you a detailed and bullet point account for achieving success and keeping your hair in!

In truth, I think I owe most of my success here to 2 small toys! Believe it or not, both survived three consecutive children! One was a clear plastic dome on a stick with an interesting light-catcher object inside it, the other was a stick with a screw head and 3 arms with things to turn, beep and click. Both had a big sucker attachment for the highchair table.

Babies have an amazing capacity to understand routine. Even with their limited communication skills, they often respond to it with contentment. Remember back to those early days with the sequence of a nappy change followed by a feed? By getting them used to a set of circumstances, that ends up in a contented tummy, you should be able make food and drink time a more enjoyable experience for all concerned.

There really should be just one place to eat and drink. Their highchair. Consider the money you will save on cleaning products alone, not scrubbing butter and juice from your sofas and carpets! Not to mention the embarrassment at a friend’s house, when they smear the contents of their hands on someone ELSE’S sofa and carpet!

Start right at the beginning and you will be able to transport this good habit anywhere. Remove the stress and fear of going to a friend or relatives house if it crosses baby’s mealtime! All you need is determination, conviction in what you are doing and one or two small sucker toys.

Here we go.

Keep mealtimes regular. They benefit your family and you keep a good handle on how their feeding routine is going.

Make sure they have a clean bottom before they sit down, making them less likely to wiggle around.

Feed them, feed you! Always eat or drink with baby. They are incredible copycats. This is also great advice for any new mum! We all need a little top up of energy through the day. Healthy snacks are great for you both, but the odd cup of tea and a biscuit won’’t hurt either!

Turn the TV off before they come in the room –– a radio is fine. Put them in the chair, secure them in, pop their bib on and stick on their toy. TV is an utter distraction –– you want them to focus on their forthcoming food! Plus, all things being well with your timing, hunger should soon take over anyway.

Show them the last part of preparing the meal/drink and talk to them about what they have got coming up with excitement! Smiles breed smiles. If you are turning your nose up and making a face, saying, "I’m not sure you are going to like this, I don’t blame you, it’s not very exciting", it’s a good guess they may do the same!

Serve up and immediately remove and hide the toy. Sit down in front of each other at the table and have your snack or drink. Enjoy it together!

This is THE place for food and drinks. If you cut out all other distractions, that is what they learn happens when they sit there! Once you start to placate them with toys, crayons or TV, you soon create a situation where they will only eat when they have those other elements.

All new situations take a while to kick in. There may well be tears and tantrums. You might need to persevere with this for a week if you have been doing it another way before now, but with determination, self-belief and respect for your own self-preservation, you WILL get through it!

Cut the section out below and tape it to the fridge or cupboard. The whole household needs to be singing from the same hymn book on this and it’s a great (and polite) reminder for dads and grandparents too.

If it all goes horribly wrong…well, look at the worse possible situation. Food is thrown flying, all heck breaks loose, screams and tears…think about it. Can you really afford this each mealtime? Stay with it. Be strong and confident. They will be a little hungrier the next time you start the routine! You have to keep charge of the situation or they soon work out they can rule the roost. They will eventually come around to a new way of approaching a mealtime that is happier for everyone.

In brief

1. Start with a clean-bottomed baby!
2. Turn TV off, pop them in the highchair, strap in, bib on.
3. Give them their toy as you finish preparing their food/drink.
4. Keep it to a few minutes wait before their food/drink arrives.
5. Remove and hide the toy as the food/drink is served.
6. Sit to the table and eat/drink together and enjoy the focus!
7. Monkey see, monkey do!
8. Share your food - let them experience new tastes and textures.
9. Don’t pander to a set of demands to ensure the food is eaten.
10. Focus your child on the meal in question. Stay sane!

© Tracey Smith 2003

About the Author
Tracey Smith, 37, lives in St Aubin with her husband and three children. Originally from London, England, the family downshifted and moved to a little village in southern France, where she works as a writer and photographer. Her latest novel, "Sunflower Dreams" is available in 2004. See for further details.




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