“Feeding kids is so easy” said no parent ever! Despite what the curated feeds of Instagram influencers might imply, we parents know that feeding our babies and toddlers is the source of way more stress than our former childless selves would ever have anticipated.
And I should know! Not only am I the mum of two kids under five, I am also a feeding therapist.
I spend my work hours with parents who are struggling with anything from garden-variety picky eating to children who are fully dependent on feeding tubes for nutrition.
There are a lot of enjoyable and rewarding things about my job, but one of the best is looking for products that can support adventurous, enjoyable, and successful mealtimes—a mealtime magic wand, if you like.
Many of the products I use in therapy are products any parent can use at home. Today I want to share three b.box must-haves that you too can use, to support your child’s eating and drinking development at home.
1. THE B.BOX SMOCK BIB
All hail the smock!
If you’ve ever put one of those tiny fabric bibs on your one year old then let them at a bowl of bolognese, you’ll know that those bibs are best saved for soaking up dribble!
For messy mealtimes, you need something with real coverage.
A couple of particularly nifty things about the b.box smocks are; firstly, the little storage pouch so you can smock up on the go, and secondly the divided hem at the bottom, meaning you can still get good leg coverage even if your baby is in a highchair or similar with a pommel between their legs.
The reason I love smocks is that they help parents relax a bit about mess. And for children 6-18 months of age, messy mealtimes are absolutely critical (sorry folks, but it’s true!) Letting children explore foods supports the development of their fine motor skills , thinking and language skills and may even decrease picky eating behaviours.
So really there’s no way around it. Simply pop a mat or some newspaper under the highchair, smock up, and get messy!
2. THE B.BOX TRAINING CUP
These are new to me, and folks I am obsessed!
I was actually switched onto these by a savvy parent because sippy cups and straw cups have their time and place and are very handy when you’re out and about or when visiting Great Aunt Edith’s place, and your child asks for a drink while seated on her very expensive white sofa!
But when you have the freedom to get messy, giving kids an opportunity to practice with open cups is really important.
A principle that I try to abide by when I work with families is if you want to learn a skill, practice that skill. So I am a big fan of giving children a small amount of water in an open cup to practice from a young age.
For some children, the amount of water that flows into their mouth from an open cup can be overwhelming, so it’s good to have an intermediate step; something that slows the flow but that doesn’t require the same sucking motion that kids use on bottles and straws.
Enter b.box training cup!
It is free flow, so no sucking required, but the liquid is funneled through a small channel so your little learner won’t be coughing and spluttering with a mouth full of water.
So whilst you might think a training cup looks like a cup for a toddler, this is actually another great option for a ‘first cup’ as well.
Just remember to stick to water and milk—juice can be a special treat sometimes, but when given regularly, it can reduce your child’s appetite, so they eat less of the yummy, healthy foods you’re providing at mealtimes.
2. THE B.BOX MINI FLORK
Flork is just a great word. I could say it all day. Flork, flork flork!
These florks are teeny tiny three-pronged picks that kids can use to stab food. They’re small enough to fit in a lunch box, but the handle is big enough to get a good grip.
Here’s the thing: I love messy mealtimes (see above, see also my kitchen five times a day!). But some kids don’t.
Some kids have differences in the way that they experience touch, and those differences can make certain textures unbearable on their hands.
Some kids feel very anxious about new foods, and picking up a new food with their fingers is just way too scary. For those kids, an extra degree of separation from a food can mean the difference between trying something new and entering the mother of all mealtime battles!
Even for kids that don’t have sensory processing differences or anxiety, there’s something kind of fun about eating food in a different way—it makes something routine novel and interesting again.
One fun way to use these florks is to set up a tasting platter.
Add small pieces of new and novel foods (dragon fruit! tempeh! pepinos!), grab a flork each, and take turns to taste each food and review it like a food critic.
Is it sweet, sour, bitter, or salty? Does it taste like anything you’ve had before? Does the taste change as you eat it? What’s the texture like? For picky eaters, this ‘critic’ or ‘food scientist’ approach can take the pressure off eating and make food fun again.
So, there you go! Three products you need right now for magical mealtimes with your little people at home.
Abracadabra: let’s make mealtime battles disappear!
If you are struggling with mealtimes or eating and drinking skills with your child, a feeding therapist (who might be trained as a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, dietitian, or psychologist) might be able to help. Speak to your GP or maternal and child health nurse to find out about therapists in your area.
Dr. Katherine Sanchez
Dr Katherine Sanchez is a speech pathologist with a special interest in feeding therapy. She co-owns a private speech pathology practice in Melbourne called Protea Therapy where she sees children experiencing difficulties with feeding, speech, or language. Dr Sanchez is also mum to two little boys, and spends her days trying to achieve mealtime magic at home as well as at work.