Feeding and eating are social experiences and opportunities to develop new skills.
Secure Attachments - The early experiences children have with their caregivers shape the long term development of a number of mental processes. An infant or toddler being fed or supervised to eat makes a social connection with the caregiver. The caregiver who looks at the child lovingly, pays attention, and responds to the child’s needs; contributes to creating the secure attachment that primes the child for healthy connections with others.
Social Graces - Conversations while eating is encouraged because it presents opportunities for children to develop their language skills and ideas about food and other things; however, children are advised not to talk with their mouths full. Children learn social graces like: covering their mouths while sneezing or coughing; laying the table mat, food, cutleries, napkin, and cup correctly; being careful not to make a mess, and cleaning up after themselves.
Sensory Refinement - Children should be offered the opportunity to feed themselves as soon as they can sit and reach comfortably. The caregiver should be close-by to give assistance where necessary as eating will be very messy while the child is learning to eat. Caregivers need not be discouraged by the mess as it creates opportunities for children to explore textures, colours, shapes, smell, taste, sound, and develop interest in a variety of foods. It also affords them the opportunity to practice hand to mouth coordination, develop muscular and pincer grip that will not only help them handle eating utensils, but also, writing utensils.
Independence - children who are helped to learn to do things for themselves, believe in themselves and their abilities. They do not wait for others to do things for them, they are go-getters and go for what is required. Their independence creates opportunities for further learning discoveries which makes them gain more intelligence than those who are made to believe that everything has to be done for them. Independent children are also well adjusted to society, their peers admire them and adults are impressed with their willpower and accomplishments.
Physical development - The Dutch Hunger Winter, during the second world war showed that starvation affected the growing child and led to more disease incidences in later life compared to well nourished pregnancies. A child well nourished from the womb has a better chance of being physically fit, well built, and generally healthy. Research show that the composition of oviductal and seminal fluids is influenced by parental nutrition, metabolism, and inflammation. Hence, eating healthy should start from the parents, then through the pregnancy and afterwards. Parents should pay attention to the food the child is eating and ensure it is hygienically prepared and packed to keep children strong and healthy. Children who fall ill often, spend more time and energy recovering than developing.
Food problems - Children should have pleasant food time experiences in order not to develop deviations like phobia, aversion, or unhealthy cravings for food. Children should not be cajoled, forced, or blackmailed to eat. Some children are overfed and have their systems expanded to take in more food than the body needs which leads to obesity and other food-related life threatening conditions later in life. Some children are given too little food so that they keep craving more. Some children are not given a balanced diet and hence do not get sufficiently nourished. Children’s meals should be well spaced out to enable the digestive system function optimally. Compelling a child to eat every hour may place a strain on the digestive system. Children’s preference for food is what was introduced to them at the weaning stage. If they were presented with a variety of food and allowed to explore them, they will be more disposed to variety and will eat as much as their bodies require. A routine helps to remind children to get the nourishment required. Children may request or be offered snacks in between meals but caregivers shouldn’t make a fuss about eating.