By Aviva Allen, Kids' Nutritionist
Are you struggling with your child’s eating? Do you feel as if mealtime is a constant battle? You are not alone. As a Kids’ Nutritionist, at least 80% of parents who come to see me are struggling with how to deal with picky eating. When I meet with a family, I spend a good amount of time gathering information about the child and the the challenges that the parents are experiencing with feeding them. Getting to the bottom of WHY that specific child eats the way that they do is very important when determining the appropriate strategy. Every child and family dynamic is different, however, there are still some basic principles that can apply to everyone.
Placing food directly onto your child’s plate is something that many parents do. We assume that we know what they are going to eat and putting it together on their plate for them seems easier. For the child, plated food can feel like PRESSURE. When you put the plate down in front of them, they interpret it as if you are saying “these are the foods that I expect you to eat and this is how much I want you to have.” Serving food family-style offers increased exposure to new foods and it makes it easier for your child to try something new when they are ready.
Making your child a separate meal is not recommended. Ideally, you want to offer one meal that the whole family can enjoy, but that does not mean it is necessary for your child to eat everything at the table. Always offer at least one of your child’s preferred foods as part of the meal and then step back and let them determine which foods and how much to put on their plate. With time and consistent exposure to a variety of foods, your child will begin to explore new foods if they are given an opportunity to do this in a pressure-free environment.
When a child feels pressured to eat, they will usually end up eating less, not more. It should always be the child’s responsibility to decide which foods to eat and how much, from what is being offered to them. Although you may feel that your child should be eating more, when we pressure them to eat a specific food or quantity, we are teaching them to override their body’s internal cues. You may be conditioning them to eat everything on their plate, even when they are already full. It is important that we allow children to listen to their bodies and learn how to self-regulate when it comes to their eating.
Every parent loves their child and wants them to be well nourished. Parents can be well intentioned but sometimes we interfere too much when it comes to feeding our kids. Understanding and accepting your role in the feeding relationship is the first step towards getting back on track. Eating is a learned behaviour and we have approximately 18 years to teach our kids so let them learn to become great eaters at their own pace.
Aviva Allen is Toronto's leading Kids' Nutritionist specializing in helping children and their families establish healthy eating habits through her nutritional counselling practice located in midtown Toronto. Aviva is also the founder of Healthy Moms Toronto, helping connect like-minded moms throughout the GTA.