A few practical tips for keeping your baby or toddler seated in a high chair longer so they can eat a better meal and your family can enjoy a stress-free dinner. This might help you end dinner time battles!
Pretty much every child goes through a phase where they don't want to be in their high chair. They might refuse to sit in a high chair at all, or they might decide they are "all done!" after just three bites.
The good new is: that's normal. Supposedly a young toddler can only be expected to sit for about 5-10 minutes for a meal.
The bad news: you still have to deal with it. Somehow. Our son chewed so slow that it would take him over 10 minutes to eat a chicken nugget. I've timed it. So what was I supposed to do, let half a chicken nugget be his whole meal?
I know that according to the division of responsibilities for feeding you have to let your child decide how much they eat. But our son was so underweight that we had to think of ways to get him to stay on the high chair. We wanted him to take a few more bites without feeling pressured to eat.
We used to rely on him watching youtube on the phone or iPad, but then we decided that we needed to be able to feed him without watching TV.
Getting your child to stay seated in a high chair is half the battle
If your child is willingly sitting in the high chair longer, they are probably more likely to eat some more too. Even if they don't keep eating, if they are seated in a high chair next to you, then at least they are not causing trouble somewhere and you can finish your meal in peace.
So here are some tips and tricks that have worked for us to get our son to sit in the high chair long enough to actually eat most of his meal.
We switch it up between these techniques and it's been working for us for a while now. Some of these applied more when he was younger, around 1-1.5 years old. Some of these tricks we still use regularly:
How to Get a Toddler to Sit at a Table Long Enough to Eat
Small toys, such as a car, or an animal can keep a child entertained long enough to sit and finish a whole meal. Younger toddlers will use the toys as fidget spinners, just playing with them. Older toddlers can wheel the car around their plate or feed the animals.
Having a little toy at the table works because (1) it's fun and (2) it provides sensory input for your child so they don't feel as antsy about sitting down for a while.
By the way, if you think your child can benefit from more sensory play, check out 52 weeks of Sensory. It's a year-long list of sensory activities I created with a focus on picky eaters. Join me for lots of fun sensory play! Learn more.
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We use mealtimes as an educational opportunity. We show our son flash cards with new pictures for him to learn and he is even starting to recognize some words!
Milton the Mealtime Companion
Milton the Mealtime Companion is an ingenious invention that is actually great for feeding therapy and for reducing toddler dinner time battles. Milton can be used as a toy where your child can "feed" him. Milton can be used as a "no thank you" plate where your child can put the food they don't want. Even if your child is feeding Milton instead of him or herself, touching foods they don't eat yet is an accomplishment for picky eaters. Playing with Milton and feeding Milton is a great way to expose your child to new foods and textures without them feeling the pressure of having to eat those new foods.
Ask your child for help
When our son was losing interest in eating, I would get a small food container or another plate and ask him to help me transfer the food from his plate into the container. This one worked SO WELL when our son was younger, he LOVED to help.
As I mentioned above, just touching the food is good sensory play and is an important step for a picky eater to start liking new foods. Keeping our son occupied with the task of moving pieces of food was super important. Sometimes he would start putting food into his mouth instead of in the container. This was a huge win!
Sometimes our son would even dump out the food from the container and we'd have to start all over! It sounds frustrating, but that's actually a good thing. It kept him occupied, got him to touch foods he would normally refused to touch, and he ate more.
Try again soon
Sometimes your child has just had enough and no amount of distractions will help. So let them get up from the table play for 5 minutes. During this time, rearrange their food, or put it on a different plate. Then put your child back in the high chair and try again! There's a chance they forgot that they were "all done" with dinner and might eat a few more bites.
Music helps make dinnertime more relaxing. Your child might be distracted just enough by background music to not focus as much on the pressure to eat. You can sing along. You can make up silly lyrics. You can get your child into singing and having a good time while eating.
Music also helps you stay sane if trying to feed your child is making you feel super anxious. I've been there! Some relaxing Jack Johnson always helped me.
Save the best for last
Bring out their favorite food right when they are almost done eating. They'll get a second wind and will eat their favorite food. They might even forget that they were "done" with their other food and take a few more bites of that as well.
Anything you can do to create a positive eating environment will help your toddler stay in their high chair and hopefully get a few healthy bites in.
And don't worry, it gets better. As your child grows, they will go through phases where they actually enjoy eating. They'll go through phases where they don't want to get down from the high chair because they just want to eat. So just stay patient, stay consistent, and help your child have a good eating experience at every meal.
Do you have any tips for how you get your child to stay seated long enough to eat? I'd love to hear them!
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