February 18th, 2009

Let Them Play with Food: The Value of Self Feeding (Homemade Cheese Crackers)

cheese-crackers
Who doesn’t melt at the sight of a sauce-covered toddler working hard to feed herself?

Me. That’s who. At least when the blood bath happens on my turf. At someone else’s table? ADORABLE!

Yup. There you have it. Even my background in developmental psychology, thoughtfully researched knowledge of infant and toddler feeding, and passion for spreading food love from the youngest age barely override my deep desire for cleanliness and order. I don’t care how many to-die-for photos I can get from the deal, pasta sauce on my ceiling is NOT cute.

BUT (you knew that was coming, right?)… I get over it. And hope you do to. Because self-feeding offers a wonderful opportunity for your child to build skills critical to her physical and social-emotional development. It’s also the best way to avoid force-feeding and know that your child is eating exactly how much she wants. So hand over the spoon!

6-24 Months

Early on, self-feeding provides a fun and easy way to practice manual dexterity (picking things up) and hand-eye (or hand-mouth!) coordination. By around 10 months, your child will start showing some physical improvement, moving from the palmer grasp to the more coordinated pincer grasp. And by around 12 months, your child will start to use their spoon for its real purpose (though you may have to fill it with food and help guide it to her mouth). Your child may not show truly professional finger- and self-feeding skills until she is 18-24 months, but the sense of independence she’ll get from trying in the meantime is invaluable!

2 Years & Up

The fun doesn’t end with mastery. (Oh joy.) As any parent of a 2-year-old knows, it’s a challenge to find safe opportunities to let your child exercise the control and independence she desperately craves. Meal time is the perfect chance! And—bonus—she’ll associate positive feelings of empowerment with meal time, which is great for her developing relationship with food. Here’s a great example of how self-feeding can completely change the tenor at mealtime:

I recently warmed up leftover veg curry, one of Isaac’s favorites. He pushed the bowl away and insisted, “No curry!” When Isaac refuses a meal, I usually offer a quick nutritious altenative like hummus and veggies or fruit with peanut butter. And if that’s a no go, dinner’s over. I refuse to make multiple meals. But, this time, I was taken aback and found myself whipping up a quick fried brown rice with frozen veggies.

No!

No?!?!?!

NO! No rice!

Just as I was about to declare dinner over, Isaac said, “Isaac cook.” I gave him both bowls and the “cooking” began. In between mixing and spooning the meals together (“Mix! Isaac stir!”), Isaac ate a seriously healthy and sizable meal. Disaster averted by handing over the spoon.

What To Make

So, you with me? If yes, the good news is that you don’t have to change the way you cook to encourage self feeding. It’s simply a matter of knowing what bite size is right for your child and being willing to clean up the mess. Roll up purees, ball leftover rice or pastina (cover in breadcrumbs, sprinkle with oil, and bake for yummy rice balls that freeze well), cube fruits and veggies, or hand over those meatballs or chicken drumsticks.

As for snack time, I continue to be disappointed in the healthy, organic, low sugar options available at the store. So, when I can find the time (ha!), I like to make my own finger foods and freeze them. We always have these banana date mini-muffins in the freezer, and the dough for these homemade cheese crackers also freezes well. Plus they’re yummier and healthier than the cheddar animals sold in stores. An instant favorite family classic.

Brooke’s Homemade Cheese Crackers
(can be served to kids 10+ mos)

1/2 cup organic butter
1/2 lb organic sharp cheddar cheese, grated (the sharper, the better)
1 1/2 cup organic flour
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together butter and cheese.
3. Mix flour and salt. Then add flour mixture into cheese and butter mixture. Mix well.
4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten and prick top with a fork.
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

10 Responses

  1. chowmama says:

    [...] quesadillas or dinosaur bruchetta. Next week he’s into space? Think starry crackers (try Stacie’s recipe from last week) or starry maple roasted tofu (see recipe below).   Remember you’re not alone. [...]

  2. chowmama says:

    [...] Atticus’s energy for good and not for evil. (Add this tip to Stacie’s ideas about playing with food.) Today, I let him destroy something (Banana Date Mini Muffins) to create something even sweeter: [...]

  3. [...] It’s no secret that (despite the stress it causes this clean freak) I am a proponent of allowing kids to play with their food. This book won me over with its games that prominently feature kitchens, vegetables and gardens. [...]

  4. Cathy says:

    I took your advice and made an adapted version of these for grown-ups…asiago cheese and cracked pepper (and some poppy seeds for fun) They were delicious! Thanks!!!!!

  5. Susan says:

    Do you think you could do these with WW pastry flour?

  6. stacie says:

    great question. i have no idea! i’ve never worked with WW pastry flour. in fact, didn’t even know it existed. without knowing how it’s different from all purpose flour, i can’t make a guess. maybe 1/2 the recipe and try it out. definitely report back. i’m curious.

  7. [...] Recipe slightly adapted from the fabulous: http://onehungrymama.com/2009/02/let-them-play-with-food-the-value-of-self-feeding-homemade-cheese-c… [...]

  8. [...] Cheddar Cracker—a recipe easily adapted to use blue cheese, manchego or your favorite cheese [...]

  9. [...] can be stored in an airtight container for at least a week. Dough, like the one for these homemade cheese crackers, can be portioned, frozen and baked on demand. Other treats, like these mini zucchini muffins and [...]

  10. [...] to try out homemade crackers. I’m sure I found the recipe on Pinterest, but it comes from the One Hungry Mama blog. Turns out the crackers are named Brooke’s Homemade Cheese Crackers. So I had to make [...]

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