Creating A Healthy Eating Environment For Your Baby

This is critical for helping your baby establish a healthy relationship with food

Creating A Healthy Eating Environment For Your Baby

Baby Eating

Creating a healthy and safe atmosphere for your baby during meal times is really important for many reasons, but especially to help them establish a healthy relationship with food. Starting solid foods is huge milestone in your little ones life and it should be a fun, no-pressure, relaxed experience for them (and you!). 

1. Create a relaxed, distraction-free environment:

It is best to feed your baby in a relaxed, distraction-free environment so that baby can focus on his or her food. Have your baby sit in a high chair and make sure that you are sitting approximately at eye level to them. Hold the spoon a few inches in front of baby’s mouth and wait for him or her to open up before you feed- never force them to open their mouths or rush the process. Let your baby be the only guide as to how much or little, and how fast or slow he or she wants to eat. Stop when your baby is not interested anymore—even if that means that he or she only ate 1-2 bites. When you first introduce solid foods (and for the following few months), your baby is getting to know food and becoming comfortable with the concept of eating solids. It's an experimental time, and like any milestone, will likely require lots of patience on your part as the parent. One thing to be aware of is not to hover over your baby during meal times. Imagine if someone hovered over you while you ate—it would probably make you uncomfortable. Even though you may be spoon feeding, take breaks and let your baby explore the food on his own—maybe even play with it. This is one of the ways that baby will become comfortable with food. 

2. Let Baby Be The Guide:

Give your baby several chances to warm up to a new food—it may take 15-20 tries before your baby warms up to a food. Do not force feed your baby (even if you feel like your baby hasn't eaten enough)- this may create a negative association with food and he or she may become more resistant to trying new foods. Be cognizant of your baby’s hunger and fullness cues and do not force your baby to eat or over-feed. Notice how YOUR appetite isn't the same everyday- you may be really hungry one day and then not so hungry the next—this is normal for you and baby. Your appetite also changes from meal to meal—as does baby's. Your food intake likely evens out by the end of the week and so will baby's. Babies are VERY intuitive eaters for the most part—they really honour their hunger and fullness cues and will tell you (in more ways than one) when they're hungry and when they've had enough. And remember, until the age of 1, baby's #1 source of nutrition is still breastmilk or formula. 

3. Be a Role Model:

Model healthy eating habits by having at least one family meal per day. Research shows that family meals help foster healthy eating habits and a healthy body image from a very early age through to adulthood.  Include your baby in family meals by having his or her highchair right up beside the dinner table and talk to your baby during the meal (even though they are not talking yet). Offer a variety of foods and colors at meal times so that your baby grows accustomed to this. Leave food on your plate if you are comfortably full—try not to instill the "clean your plate" mentality in your baby. Rather, show your baby that it's OK and normal to leave food on your plate if you are satisfied. Even though you may be spoon feeding, take breaks and let your baby explore the food on his own—maybe even play with it. This is one of the ways that baby will become comfortable with food. 

4. Be patient:

Depending on your baby, he or she will warm up to solid foods really fast, or it may take a few weeks (or months) for them to feel comfortable with solids. It's important to be patient and continue to provide a variety of foods in a calm and non-pressured way (even through to toddlerhood and childhood). Some babies progress quickly to finger foods (feeding themselves) and some parents even start with finger foods (a process called Baby Led Weaning). Some babies prefer soft purees for longer than most. It's ok. In any case, let baby lead the way. Regardless of which way you introduce baby to solids, it should be "baby-led." Your responsibility as the parent is to provide a safe, healthy eating environment, age-appropriate nutritious foods and somewhat of a routine. Your baby's responsibility is whether he or she eats, how much, and how fast or slow. Remember, introducing solids should fun and enjoyable for both the baby and the parent. If you are concerned about your baby's weight or food intake, it's important to talk to baby's family doctor who can refer you to a Registered Dietitian. 



Four-Bowl Banana Bran Muffins

This higher fibre muffin is not only easy and healthy, but SO yummy!

Four-Bowl Banana Bran Muffins

I'm always on the look out for healthier baking recipes because admittedly, I love things like muffins and scones and cookies—who doesn't though?! Although I've tried many recipes over the years, no other muffin recipe has measured up to this one. This recipe is a combination of my Grandma's Bran Dried Fruit Muffins and my Mom's Banana Muffins. I remember when I was breastfeeding my first child, this was the perfect snack (paired with a glass of milk or some yogurt). High fibre, comforting, filling and EASY! Because of this, I often make a couple dozen for friends who have just had babies (along with these stellar oatmeal chocolate chip cookies). And because this recipe makes so many muffins, there are plenty for you to enjoy too (I always have a stash in the freezer). 

A few tips on how to "healthify" your favorite baked goods recipe:

  • Switch out white all purpose flour for whole wheat or whole grain flour (or try a combination of barley flour and whole wheat flour)
  • Decrease the fat (butter or oil) and replace with fruit such as banana or applesauce OR plain yogurt (note: don't replace ALL of the fat with yogurt or fruit. Only up to 1/2)
  • Use less sugar than the recipe calls for—I can usually get away with using two thirds of the sugar in the recipe and often add more fruit for sweetness.
  • Add high fibre seeds or grains such as ground flax, hemp, 100% all bran, or chia seeds for a boost in fibre


Four Bowl Banana Bran Muffins

Makes 4 dozen medium sized muffins:


2 cups 100% Bran

2 cups boiling water

4 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups unsweetened bran flakes (or other bran cereal)

2 tablespoons baking soda

2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter (room temperature)

3 eggs (room temperature)

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup white sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups low-fat buttermilk

6 ripe bananas mashed

2 cups dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, cherries, or mangoes.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 and line or grease 2 medium muffin tins.
  2. Bowl 1: Pour the boiling water over the bran and set aside to cool.
  3. Bowl 2: Sift the flours, baking soda and salt together and then add the bran flakes – mix lightly.
  4. Bowl 3: Mash the bananas—set aside.
  5. Bowl 4 (your mixer):  Cream butter, eggs, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add the 100% bran mixture, bananas and the buttermilk. Mix lightly.
  6. Fold in the dry ingredients in 2 or 3 parts just until mixed. You don’t want to overmix but you want all of the flour to be incorporated.
  7. Add the dried fruit and mix lightly. Let mixture sit for 1/2 hour before baking.
  8. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for 15-17 minutes, depending on your oven.




Why We Need to Start Eating Like Our Babies and Toddlers

You may not be eating for the right reasons

Why We Need to Start Eating Like Our Babies and Toddlers

At some point in our early childhood (around the age of 4), we lose the ability to eat intuitively all of the time—meaning that we start eating for reasons other than just physical hunger. We become influenced by people and things around us, such as our parents, siblings, and friends (and the media) and start eating because of the sight of food, the smell of food, out of habit, because we're told to, or because we're bored, sad or happy, or tired (emotions). The truth is, the older we become, the less mindful and intuitive we become when it comes to food, especially in North America. We eat on the go or sitting in front of a screen. We grab whatever is quickest and easiest, or worse, we suppress natural hunger with coffee, gum, or just waiting it out, until the hunger pangs go away. One of the keys to reaching a healthy weight and maintaining it long term (and having a healthy relationship with food), is to eat more intuitively. This means that we need to start recognizing WHY we're eating—what the triggers are—and re-evaluating whether or not we should eat. Ideally, we should be eating in response to our natural hunger cues and stopping when we're comfortably full. This is how our babies and toddlers eat. Who knew we should be looking to our young kids for guidance on how to eat?!

Here are some common eating triggers to recognize:

The See-Food Syndrome:

When you see food, smell food, or even think about food (especially carbohydrate-rich foods), your brain automatically signals to your pancreas to release insulin, which makes you feel hungry. That's why you might notice that when you go to Starbucks, you start to salivate when you see the pastries and baked goods in the display case as you're waiting for your Americano (even if you've just finished lunch!). You then leave with a banana loaf in one hand and your Americano in the other. You have just fallen victim to the "See Food Syndrome." Because this is an actual physiological response to seeing or smelling food (think walking into a house and smelling freshly baked cookies), it's important to be aware of it and recognize that it might not be TRUE hunger. That's when you want to stop, drop the loaf, and eat again when you're actually hungry. 

Habitual Eating:

You know when you come home from work and you automatically gravitate towards the pantry? Or when you throw the popcorn bag into the microwave as soon as the kids go to bed? Even if you're not really hungry or craving popcorn? Or when you automatically buy a bag of candy and a diet coke when you're going to the theatre? These may be habits that you've created over time—we all have them. The next time you catch yourself eating out of habit, challenge yourself to break it. Instead of buying candy at the theatre before the movie, grab some water or herbal tea instead. Ask yourself before you open the pantry if you're really hungry, or if it's just a habit when you pass through the kitchen. 

Distracted Eating:

Much like habitual eating, distracted eating is rampant in our society. Munching while you're watching TV or on the computer is a recipe for mindless eating. When you're in front of a screen, your attention is on whatever you're watching or working on, not on what and how much you're putting in your mouth. It's important to recognize that you might associate snacking with sitting in front of a screen—most of us do. When I challenge my clients to eat one meal a day without distraction, they often notice that they become restless and ansy. We are a multi-tasking society—we have a thousand things to do and we don't want eating to get in the way, right?! It's important to be present with your food, taste it, and enjoy it. It's also important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Are you still hungry? Are you getting close to being comfortably full? Maybe you should stop now and pack the rest away... When you're mindlessly eating while distracted, you'll most likely going to eat whatever is in front of you—to completion—regardless of how hungry or full you are. 

Emotional Eating: 

Whether we're sad, anxious, nervous, bored, excited, or relieved, emotional eating affects almost all of us at one point or another. We tend to gravitate to easy comfort foods that are either crunchy and salty, or soft and sweet. These foods (high carbohydrate foods), trigger a release of "happy hormones" such as serotonin, in our brain, which temporarily makes us feel better. Some people depend on food to make them feel better often—and notice over time that unhealthy weight gain accompanied with intense feelings of guilt are the result. Once in a while, drowning your sorrows in a bowl of ice cream is ok—you're human. But if food becomes a constant go-to when you're feeling emotional, it's not healthy. If you know that you're an emotional eater, try to figure out ways to cope or comfort yourself that don't involve food. Call a friend or your Mom, go for a walk, or take a bath. Buy yourself some flowers or treat yourself to a massage. When I'm emotional, I usually go to the gym to blow off some steam or write. Whatever works for you, as long as it doesn't involve the cookie jar. 

Even though your toddlers may drive you crazy when they don't eat what you serve them at dinner, know that they are actually listening to their body, following their own natural hunger cues, and honouring their fullness—they are experts at their own personal hunger scale. Notice how they may eat a lot at one meal and nothing at the next. Or how they snack more one day than the next. This cool thing is, young kids don't care if they hurt anyone else's feelings if they don't finish their meal, and they're not going to eat a meal to completion just because it is in front of them. They also don't grab a teething cookie every time they're sad. Babies and toddlers demand to eat when they are hungry—they don't let natural hunger pass. We as parents not only need to model healthy eating habits to our kids, but we also need to start looking to our youngest kids for guidance on WHY and HOW to eat. xo