Parents endorse good nutrition, but many bride, beg, coax and pressure their children to eat. As a result, nearly half of all children have eating problems. To avoid mealtime battles, many parents simply limit meals to foods they know their child will readily accept. In some cases, this may even mean that mom or dad prepares one meal for their picky eater, and another for the rest of the family. The problem is, catering to food preferences actually leads to poor food acceptance. This means the child becomes even less likely to try new foods when they are offered.
So what is the best approach? Should we force our children to try new foods? Should we coax them to eat their vegetables by promising dessert? As a Nutritionist and a parent, I fully understand the challenges parents face in getting healthy meals on the table and how frustrating it can be when a child refuses to eat. But, with more than a decade of experience working with families, I can assure you there are some clear evidence-based “do’s” and “don’t” when it comes to feeding kids.
Following these 7 simple rules will help put your mind at ease and ensure you are doing everything you can to help your child lay the foundation for healthy life long eating habits.
Understand your role in the parent-child feeding relationship.
Raising good eaters starts with fostering healthy eating habits from an early age. To do this you first must understand your role as a parent in the parent-child feeding relationship. Parents are responsible for what, when and where their child eats. The child is responsible for deciding how much and whether they eat.
Offer nutritious foods.
As a parent, your role is to choose and prepare nutritious foods for your child. Offer regular nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day. Feeding on demand works well for infants, but not se well for toddlers and young children. Young children need a bit of structure around meal and snack times, as they often don’t know what they will eat until its actually laid out in front of them.
Offer new foods often.
Children are naturally skeptical and cautious about new foods. Encourage, but never force, a child to touch, taste and smell new foods. Children learn to like new foods by having them served repeatedly. Young child learn to like new foods when they see their friends and family eating these foods, by tasting them many times, and by sharing these foods with someone they trust.
Make mealtime pleasant.
Sit and eat with your child at mealtime. Minimize distractions by turning of the tv or other electronics. Use mealtime as an opportunity to share, learn and spend time together.
Encourage your child to eat but never force them.
Don’t force, beg, coax or bribe your child to eat. Children are born with the natural ability to know how much they need to eat. Their internal sense of hunger, appetite and fullness is stronger than adults, and they will eat the right amount to grow properly.
Never Use Food to Reinforce Behaviour.
Using food as a reward, or withholding it as a punishment, teaches children that food is associated with an action, rather than hunger. This can teach children to prefer some foods over others and can alter children’s natural ability to respond to internal cues that allow them to know when they are hungry and when they are full. Trust that your child will eat when he is hungry and stop when he is full.
Be a good role model.
Show children what they need to learn about food and mealtime behaviour. Role model healthy eating behaviours and positive attitudes towards food.
To learn more about how you can help your child develop healthy eating habits visit www.ellynsatterinstitute.org.
Canadian Registered Dietitian/ Nutritionist