(Wampsville, NY – July 2014) Does your child refuse to try new foods? Are you tired of dinnertime battles? Are you worried your kids are eating too little or too much? Are you frustrated with unsuccessful attempts to get your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables?
Parents want their children to eat well and to grow up healthy. They know that those who eat well are more likely to perform better in school and have a better chance of maintaining healthy weight. But when a child seems to eat too much or not eat enough, is considered picky and won’t eat fruits or vegetables, parents tend to worry.
When feeding issues come up, many parents feel this is something that needs fixing. As a result, they may try to force or bribe their child into eating certain foods or certain amounts. Nonetheless, research shows that this is unproductive and can actually worsen the problem. So what can parents do to prevent and correct feeding problems at any age?
Maintaining a positive feeding relationship with your kids is the most important step in helping them develop healthy eating habits. Infants are born with an internal hunger signal that tells them when they’re hungry and when they’re full. When we try to control how much children eat, we interfere with this natural ability and can cause them a lot of stress.
To help lessen struggles with feeding, keep in mind that the parent or caregiver is responsible for what, when and where to feed the child. The child is responsible for how much he eats and whether or not he eats the food you provide.
While an adult’s diet is influenced by many things such as their environment, income or likings, a child’s diet is largely influenced by what their parents feed them, as well as when and how often. Parents help children become better eaters when they plan and schedule regular meal and snack times, eat together as a family ideally at home, serve a variety of foods every day and trust their children to do their job as eaters.
If parents do their job with feeding, then their child can take responsibility over how much and whether to eat. Doing this lays a foundation for the decisions your child will make in the future when he or she has more freedom to decide what, where and when to eat.
Keep in mind that eating should not be a chore. Pressuring children to eat more of certain foods often has a negative effect and, in the long run, they eat less, not more. On the other hand, forcing children to eat less than they want makes them afraid they’ll go hungry and in the end causes them to overeat.
Pressuring can also create a negative eating environment, so be patient. Know that it may take children 10 to 20 chances with each new food, but if given the time, children learn to like them. First, they might look, but won’t touch. They will then touch, but won’t taste. They will taste and spit it out. One day they will finally swallow it and like it.
Along with this, being a good role model can also help you maintain a positive feeding relationship with your child. Your own eating and lifestyle choices are powerful teaching tools. Your child sees the choices you make and follows your example. Next time you introduce a new fruit or vegetable to your child, don’t force him to eat it. Take a bite of the new foods and show him how good they taste. Once your child sees different foods being enjoyed by the family, he will become interested and, with enough exposure, will begin to like them.
The bottom line is parents and caregivers are responsible for selecting, preparing and offering food to their children. They are also responsible for determining mealtime structure such as times and place where the meals and snacks will be eaten. The child’s responsibility is to choose to eat from the selection offered or to choose not to eat. Offer your children new foods. Then, let them choose how much to eat.
Kids are more likely to enjoy a food when eating it is their own choice. Once children develop taste for many types of foods, it’s easier to plan family meals. Cook together, eat together, talk together and make mealtime a family time.
Laura Arboleda served as a student-intern for the Madison County Health Department.