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Improve Your Child's Eating

Jul 17, 2008
As a child, I vividly remember my mother telling me that I must stay at the table until I finished my plate of hamburger casserole. I ate enough to satisfy my hunger even though I disliked the food, because I was hungry. However, the combining factors of disliking the food and not being hungry anymore made it a seemingly impossible task to finish my plate. The portion was too big, and I didn't need that much food. I didn't know how to explain this to my mother, so I responded by smashing the food, hiding it under my potatoes, and sneaking some of it under the table to the dog. I felt bad that my mother was frustrated with me, but I just couldn't finish it.

Sound familiar? If you are like most parents, you are concerned with what and how your children eat. Whether you're worried about your child's weight, appetite, or food preferences, you're not alone. Rather than focusing on the problem with your child, it may be helpful to focus on yourself'what behaviors you are doing that may be impacting your child's eating.

All children have a desire to eat. If your child isn't eating, eats too much, or refuses to eat food with the essential nutrients they need, it probably has less to do with their desire or ability to eat, and more to do with your feeding relationship with your child. What you need is to evaluate the division of responsibility of your child's eating.

Ellyn Satter, a notable dietitian, has studied and written extensively on maintaining a division of responsibility essential to a child's successful eating, and a parent's successful feeding. In Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, she explains it as an understanding of the role that both you and your child play in your child's eating. This includes the child's habits and nutritional needs, the kinds of food provided to the child, and the expectations that parent and child have for each other. Parents who are too controlling or casual, however well-intentioned their actions may be, can inadvertently undermine an otherwise successful feeding relationship with their children.

Understand that you are responsible for what food is provided to your child, when it is provided, and where it is provided; contrary to many parents' beliefs, your responsibility ends there. Your child-not you-is responsible for how much he eats, and for deciding whether he eats at all.

Parents must provide a balance of love and limits for their children in order to best encourage proper eating habits. Have realistic and developmentally appropriate expectations for your child's behavior, and for the food they eat. According to Satter, it can take a child an average of 10-20 tastes before he begins to like a food. If you give up too easily, you could limit your child or deprive him of his right to learn how to appreciate new foods. Give your child options of several foods at once, and let him choose what and how much he will eat.

Children are incredibly good at naturally regulating their diet, and getting the nutrients they need. Encouraging them and allow them to choose without forcing them. This creates the right environment for your child to eat, try new things, and develop a taste for nutritious foods. Healthy snacks provided at appropriate times will also help balance your child's eating patterns.

Instead of being forced to stay at the table until I finished it, my mother could have understood the division of responsibility and allowed me to eat the portion of food that I knew was right for me. Of course, if I had come back twenty minutes later asking for a snack because I was hungry, then my mother could provide appropriate choices and limits for me. Having an understanding of her role as the provider of the food, and my role as the eater, could have helped us both avoid a lot of frustration and upset stomachs.

The bottom line is to allow your child to take control of his own eating, after you have provided appropriate choices and limits. This will encourage good eating habits, and help him become more like a grown-up in what and how he eats. Your child notices your behaviors and attitudes toward food, and is apt to adopt them himself. Make family mealtimes a positive experience for your child, and he will likely make them a positive experience for you.
About the Author
Art Gib writes and contributes to many baby, child, family and parent online publications including HugaMonkey. Art is an avid baby sling supporter because of the positive impact it can have on families. For more information regarding baby slings, visit http://www.hugamonkey.com.
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