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How to develop your baby's physical skills during mealtimes

Babbu explains how you can approach mealtimes to help with your little one's overall development.

3-4 min read.

Babbu say the sensory experiences mealtimes bring to the table are equally as valuable as conversation in developing their sense of touch, smell, taste, alongside teaching them about the world surrounding them.

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So, what are motor skills and why are they important?

Fine motor skills are the capacity to use the smaller muscles in our hands and wrists to complete a task. Now, our gross motor skills are those skills that involve the whole body — your core muscles (think belly and back) and the muscles of your arms and legs. Such abilities are crucial for our success in the classroom, the workplace, and daily life!

Most of us don't think about these motions since they naturally occur. However, developing fine motor abilities is complex and requires daily exploration and practice. In addition, coordination between the brain and the muscles is needed.

Examples of fine motor skills:

  • Holding a toothbrush, pencil or a spoon
  • Drawing pictures and writing
  • Using a keyboard, or a guitar
  • Using scissors, rulers, and other tools
  • During daily tasks such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth.

Examples of gross motor skills:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Lifting (a spoon, a hairbrush, a barbell — they all count)
  • Kicking

Sit down & get comfy!

One of the most obvious ways children develop their core muscles is by practising sitting down! Their sitting position is essential to improve their mobility and prevent falls. As your child sits on the chair, they should bend their knees and ankles, straightening their thighs and hips to build muscle and flexibility.

Now, the best position for your little one should be sitting with their hips, knees, and ankles all bent at 90 degrees.

It is recommended to choose a highchair or a booster seat that will provide the best support possible for your little one and allow their feet to be securely placed on a firm surface. Dangling feet not only distract children from the task of eating, but more importantly, it restrains them from building muscle tone.

But first and foremost, how can we prepare those little hands for food? It is important to develop hygiene practices with your child.

  • Tell them that keeping their bodies clean is very important to prevent them from feeling unwell.
  • Before and after they eat, explain to your little one, Let's wash our hands to get rid of the germs. I'll turn the tap on, and we can do the soap together". As they do this, you can add descriptive words to explain what they are doing during the process, such as "Wash, wash", "Rub-a-dub-dub" or" "Splash splash".
  • Why not make up a song to make it more fun and engaging for your baby? They will love hearing you sing in a variety of pitches and tones.

Singing wonders for your little one's well-being and teaches them about rhythm and rhyme, supporting their literacy and mathematical development.

Exploring with different shapes through cutlery 

Introduce some cutlery each mealtime; even if you have chosen to spoon-feed your baby, take turns dipping the spoon in the food! Your little one may attempt to put their spoon in their mouths, upside down or the wrong way round at first. You may want to hold their hand with the spoon to model and support learning, but don't do this all the time, as your little one needs time to practise and explore independently. Keep the experience positive.

You can also:

  • Make mealtimes a family occasion; this way, your little one learns from you and the rest of the family!
  • Allow them to self-serve their food to improve their gross motor skills. Letting children serve themselves is a good idea, as this will help them establish independence and control over their bigger movements.E.g. Let them watch you scoop some food into their plates with the large spoon. Why don't you hold their hand and try doing it together next time?

A sensory explosion 

As your baby grows and explores different foods, they experience many other sensations—everything from the texture of the fruit skin to the juiciness when eating it. Not only is exposing them to new flavours and textures crucial for a healthy lifestyle, but it also helps them to figure out their likes and dislikes.

It also promotes:

  • Their understanding of the world by exploring and using all their senses and developing fine motor skills by picking up the pieces of food and manipulating them with their fingers.
  • Enjoyment and memorable mealtimes. You can encourage your child to feel the texture of their food; it might turn into a messy business but don't get discouraged by this; your little one will love using their hands and fingers!
  • Independence and confidence. Through the sensory experiences of food, your little one learns about what they are eating and encourages to feed themselves.
  • Not becoming a fussy eater! Exploring their food allows children to fall in love with it.

So, explore the textures together; for example, orange skin may be rough, smooth or cold, whereas other foods may be mushy, crunchy, hard or soft. Finally, allowing them to investigate their food is an excellent way to develop their sense of touch.

Teach the importance of hygiene

Your little one needs to understand the importance of hygiene early on, so make it a part of your routine! Make sure:

  • Your little one washes their hands before and after eating. If they have just started weaning, you can still take them to the sink to wash their hands or if more manageable, use a wet cloth.
  • You explain why it's important, e.g. "We have been playing; our hands are now dirty and yucky", and "There are germs in our hands that might give us a tummy ache."
  • They learn about oral hygiene as soon as they get their first tooth. You could make up a song as they brush their teeth to describe their actions, such as "Brush brush, brush your teeth, up and down, up and down" and "Splash, splash, splash!" as the water splashes into the sink.


Making healthy choices 

It is essential to start making healthy choices as a child. It is important to get them excited about their nutritional choices from the start!

  • Use mealtimes as opportunities to talk about what is on your plate. Name and describe what you are eating, the shapes, textures colours to encourage your little one to do the same and get interested in their food.
  • Talk about the superpower that is inside our foods e.g. vitamins and minerals! Explain that vitamins and minerals in food help us get big and strong; for instance, "the mineral in milk and cheese is called calcium; it allows our bones and teeth to stay strong".
  • Invite them to feel their bones and teeth, describe their texture and how they help us stand tall, run, and eat. Discuss what would happen if we didn't have strong bones or if we didn't have any bones at all!
  • Use this opportunity to talk about the body and how important it is to keep it healthy.


Fruit and vegetables are part of a healthy, balanced diet and can help you stay healthy. So, we must eat enough of them!

Describe the 5-a-day campaign and the significant health benefits of getting at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables daily.

Why not make it a game to see who eats 5 different portions of fruits and vegetables during the day; you can make it into a friendly competition!

Book Library

Reading to your child is an excellent method to introduce new words and improve their listening, memory, and vocabulary skills. Furthermore, it improves their communication abilities and introduces new ideas, letters, colours, and shapes in a fun and engaging manner.

This book promotes healthy habits. This rhythmic text will inspire your little one to brush their teeth. The big, bold artwork, photos, and illustrations make this book visually appealing. At the end of each book is a parent note with suggested activities linked to the story and its theme.

In Let's Wash Our Hands, we meet two toddlers who learn all about washing their hands and bath time! Follow the ups and downs of their journey, brought to life with fun flaps and mechanisms.

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