Mealtime with toddlers is always an unpredictable event. Will your little one get more spaghetti in their mouth, or in their hair? Only time will tell.
For adults, the whole eating thing seems pretty intuitive: put food in mouth, chew, and swallow. This is not the case for toddlers. This is because sitting for meals and feeding themselves is pretty new for toddlers Baby’s age, especially toddlers who started out being spoon-fed purees not too long ago.
Mealtime messes are totally normal for children at this age, and can even be kind of fun to watch. However, parents are often concerned as their toddlers begin eating more table food, since many young children eat too fast, shoveling food into their mouths without chewing before moving to the next bite.
Since choking can be very serious, parents need to supervise meals carefully to make sure toddlers are chewing their food, and to help if necessary. Here are some tips for helping Baby learn to chew their food.
- Model how it’s done: Sit down with Baby as they eat, and let them watch you eat from your own plate. Since they learn from watching you, be sure they are able to see how you chew your food, and even exaggerate the motion for them. This will help them understand how they are expected to eat.
- Monitor every bite: In these early years, it’s important to be sure Baby is never eating without supervision. Toddlers get in the habit of putting large quantities of food in their mouths, then move to the next bite without chewing or swallowing. They know the food is yummy, and want more, but don’t quite understand they are literally biting off more than they can chew. If this sounds like Baby, you may decide to offer bite-sized portions of food at a time for a little while as they learn, and let them know you will put the next bite on the plate once they chews and swallow.
- Start with easy foods: Of course, some foods are easier to chew than others. As Baby gets the hang of self-feeding, offer softer foods that require less chewing, like pasta and soft vegetables. Still, continue to model the chewing motion for them, and be sure they are chewing even the softest foods down before swallowing.
- Avoid choking hazards: Foods like popcorn, nuts, and hard candy are difficult to chew and swallow, and are considered choking hazards for young children, and even the best chewers aren’t ready for these foods until at least age 4.
- Be patient: It isn’t always easy to watch Baby refuse to chew food or chew less than they should, and it’s easy to start to worry about choking. The more they practice eating, though, and the more they watch your example, the better they'll grow.
Like all areas of development, chewing is something they will master in time. Be consistent, and Baby will be a chewing champ in no time!