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Are you in a constant food fight with your kids?
Are you in a constant food fight with your kids?

One of the topics that concern parents the most is the daily fight to get their kids to eat. We are constantly battling with our kids about how much they eat, what they eat, and when they eat, and this can be exhausting. Yet it is usually us that cause the problem. Babies are born with a natural survival instinct, and that includes their ability to suck so that they can drink milk. We follow their nutritional demands, and feed them when they are hungry we let them drink milk until they are satisfied, and they grow and develop well.

As they grow and develop they start putting things in their mouth, they get teeth, and we introduce them to solids. And we decide now its time to take over and control their eating. We measure and monitor everything that goes into their mouths, we are not satisfied that they’ve had enough, and we start rewarding and punishing children according to their eating.

Why should children be rewarded for doing what comes naturally, for doing what they need to do to stay alive? Do we really trust the young infant to know when he’s had enough more than we do our older children? 

All we are doing is teaching children not to listen to the rhythms of their own bodies. So lets explore this issue a little further.

Recommendation: Respect your child when he says he’s eaten enough.

What's Normal?

It is normal for young children as they move from liquids to mushy foods to solids to go through picky eating phases; they are becoming accustomed to new taste and textures. At the age of two as children’s physical growth starts to slow down, they don’t need quite so many calories as before and they start loosing their baby fat.

We become sure that they must be hungry and start running after them offering them snacks like yogurt, fruit, cookies and milk every half hour to make up for the food we feel they didn’t eat enough of. Why would they eat that healthy nutritious meal you worked so hard to prepare when they know they can get a delicious snack in a few minutes?

When this happened to me I spoke to a colleague and she recommended I make notes of how much he eats during a week. I wrote down everything he ate from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. I kept our normal routine, but followed his own hunger cycles, and let him choose not to eat anything if he wasn’t hungry. I found after that week that my son was eating more than enough, sometimes he didn’t eat much but he usually made up for it. Just like me, he went though phases when his appetite just wasn’t very big. He had clear favorites but in general over the course of 3 days I noticed he would get in all the nutrition he needed to stay healthy and grow strong.

Recommendation: If your child had a big snack an hour before dinner, he might not be hungry enough to eat. So, plan out snack times so that they are set parts of the day and won’t interfere with mealtimes.

Often children just don’t like the feel of the food in their mouth. It’s as simple as a sensory issue; in my toddler classes over the years I’ve noticed that almost all my students would never eat the egg yolk. –It’s my favorite part! However they love to eat steamed egg (a regular thing here in China) – Something I just won’t touch! My own children will only eat grated or melted cheese.

Recommendation: Practice with different textures of foods to see what your child likes and doesn’t like.

There is one constant in any food battle I’ve found, it is the fight for control. Indeed here the old saying ‘it takes two to tango’ rings true! Children want independence; they want to feel that they have some say over themselves and their bodies. The one place where they know they can beat you is at the dinner table. If you don’t fight back, there is no battle, and your child will soon get tiered of fighting with no one. So if you’ve found yourself in a battle over food here are a few suggestions.

  • Choices: Before starting the meal give your child a choice. You can let them choose one of the dishes, such as a choice between broccoli and carrots. Always offer a choice between things that you are willing to prepare.
  • Involvement: When children have helped to prepare a meal they will at least be curious to taste what they have made. You can start with easy tasks, like whisking the eggs, stirring the pot or adding the ingredients. Slowly they can help with more and more of the meal, who knows, you might soon not have to cook at all!
  • Prepare Only One Meal: Make a single meal for the whole family, not one thing for everyone else and then a separate meal for your child. Its O.K. to make sure there is something on the table that you know your child will enjoy, but it should be available to all to share, not only to them. It’s a great way to introduce your child to communal eating with out the pressure to eat something they don’t like.
  • Trust: You cant control if your child eats or not, so don’t even try, Trust your child to make the right choices for himself and his body. The more you fight, the more your child is going to fight back. If they don’t eat lunch, they’ll probably be hungrier at the next meal and make up for it. If you get worried prepare something at the next meal you know they love (In our case its noodles)
  • Independence: Many parents work very hard during meal times. They are feeding children, wiping their mouths, picking up food from the table or floor, rushing children to eat faster, eat slower and telling them what to eat. I get tiered just watching these parents at work! Any Child who has no serious developmental issues has the ability to feed themselves. Their body tells them how much to eat and they have the skills to get the food into their mouths. When we don’t let them do this they resent us.
In my 23 years experience working with children between the ages of 18 months to 6 years all my students have fed themselves, served their own food, and in general eaten more at school than they do at home. Why is this? … I trust them. I trust that even if they choose only rice for lunch today they will make up for it by eating extra meat the next day. We give them time to eat, savor and enjoy meal times, I don’t touch their food or their plates, it’s their domain and I trust them to run it. The children repay my trust in them and show me they are worthy of it
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