How Do I Make My Child Chew Food Properly?
We are not only what we eat, but also ‘how’ we eat. Do you know that your child doesn't get the required dose of nutrition, if he doesn’t chew his food right? Chewing plays a vital role. Learn more.
By Priya Kathpal
As parents, you put a conscious effort to ensure your child eats well and that you serve nutritious food day after day. But do you also ensure that your child chews her food properly? If the answer to this question is ‘No’ then let us tell you now that all your effort is in vain. As digestion does not begin in the stomach but in your mouth; and chewing your food thoroughly improves digestion.
Yes, we get it, in today’s fast-paced life of rushing through meals and always being on the run, your child skips chewing food properly and washes it down quickly with water. But note that, no matter how nutritious the food is, improper chewing leads to poor absorption of nutrients from the food and your child remains unhealthy. It also leads to digestive problems such as bloating, flatulence, weight gain and more. Yes, this simple but useful act of chewing is linked to a child’s health.
Therefore, chewing your food well is extremely important. We cannot reiterate this enough. The way you chew, how long you chew – all these little factors can significantly impact your child’s health. Let’s find out how?
Why is chewing important?
Chewing is important because the saliva in your mouth helps break down the food into smaller particles that enable the stomach to metabolise it more easily. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that help in this food breakdown process, and aid in proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
Also, saliva lubricates the food well, thereby putting lesser pressure on the oesophagus tube and passing food smoothly to the stomach. Further, the chewing action releases stomach acids and juices in the gastrointestinal tract, priming the digestive system to carry out the rest of the digestion process.
Additionally, the more your child chews his food, the lesser his body loses energy and retains more nutrients. This is important, as children require these essential nutrients for their overall growth and development.
Note: Most of us think that chewing is a skill that needs a good set of teeth. This is only partially true, as strong gums are the base for chewing skills. This means that babies can start chewing with gums as soon as they are nine months old and can gradually improve that skill even after their teeth erupt.
How to make your young child chew food properly
Chewing, like other skills, is an important developmental milestone in babies. Depending on how and when your baby is introduced to various types of food (in different consistencies and textures) and how she takes to it, the milestone may be achieved sooner than you think.
Further, the number of times your child chews food depends on the food item as well. For instance, soft squishy fruits and boiled veggies are easier to chew than say a piece of chewy chicken or roti. Besides food, babies learn to gnaw on their fingers, toys, teethers and other objects around them. The little ones are constantly exploring and feeling the shape, texture and size of these objects through the act of chewing.
Now, let us look at some tried and tested ways to make your baby chew food properly:
- Provide plenty of opportunities: Babies and toddlers are eager to explore varied toys and objects, in different shapes and textures, with their mouth. Allow them enough opportunity to do so. However, take the utmost care and ensure your baby is under strict surveillance. Choose kid-friendly objects that do not provide a risk of choking or injury. Sharp objects are a strict no-no.
- Introduce a variety of food: As your baby grows, it’s important she is exposed to a variety of baby-appropriate food in different textures and consistencies. For example, raw vegetables and fruits require a considerable amount of chewing, so various types of salads and fruit platters serve as an opportunity for your baby to practise his chewing skills.
- Be a role model: Children often imitate their parents. So, you are the best guide. Show your child how to chew food by chewing your food in front of her. Further, carrying out varied mouthing activities in front of your child that involve oral motor exercises using lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw and mouth, gives babies valuable experience with new mouth movements. This will be needed when they encounter food that contains lumps and chewy bits. For, such food will require more active chewing involving the tongue, mouth, teeth and jaw.
- Limit pureed food: Do not offer blended and pureed food to your baby too often as this will delay your baby’s milestone in chewing. As far as possible, try to avoid it. As your baby grows older, she may even resist chewing or reject solid foods that need chewing because she is habituated to eating soft food.
- Transition the right way: You may tend to offer soft and blended foods for a prolonged time, because of the fear that your child may gag or choke on food. But this ends up being one of the major reasons why children don’t learn to chew sooner. Well, you can make the transition for your baby’s food from blended to hand-mashed food and then onto semi-solids and solid foods at the right time as advised by your paediatrician. However, it is always advisable to be cautious and watch out for any chances of choking episodes.
How to help your older children chew food properly
Teaching your kids to chew food takes effort, patience and discipline. Older children may need to be coaxed harder to learn this skill, which should have been ideally taught earlier when they were babies or toddlers. Here are a few tips to try:
- Eat family meals together: One of the best ways to inculcate healthy eating habits in your children is to eat family meals together. Looking up to you as a role model, they will imitate you and learn how to chew their food, choose healthy food and adopt good table manners.
- Count till 15: An effective way to make your child chew food properly is to make it like a game and count till 15 while chewing on a portion of food, before taking the next mouthful. You may take this opportunity to teach your child to bite and chew food for a few times on one side of the mouth and then switch to the other side.
- Slow down: Ensure there is ample time for eating your meals without rushing through them. Manage time efficiently. Encourage slow and conscious chewing, instead of hastily swallowing food. Patience is key. A child should ideally take a minimum of 10 minutes to finish a snack or small meal.
Before you go ahead and try these steps, remember that chewing is also a part of growing up and one shouldn’t be too hard on babies and children to learn the proper technique in a hurry. How and when you encourage your child is also important. You can start by offering the right textures at the right time and being a role model so your child can learn from you. In due course, your child will learn to chew her food properly and reap the benefits of it all. Happy chewing!
About the expert:
Written by Priya Kathpal on 17 January 2019.
Nutritionist Priya Kathpal has a Master’s degree in Dietary Food Service Management with a PG Diploma in Dietetics, Bsc Applied Nutrition and is also a certified sports nutritionist. With over 10 years of experience in fitness industry, she has been involved in clinical and sports nutrition consultations in corporate, gym, fitness centres, clinic set up and R&D team of sports nutrition products.
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