Is your child a fussy eater? Does this cause you a lot of stress at mealtimes? You are not alone!
Feeding children can feel like a struggle at times. However, a helpful concept to consider is ‘parents provide, children decide’, where your job is to provide the healthy food, and it’s your child’s job to decide what and how much to eat. At the same time as helping children develop good eating habits for life, ‘Parents Provide, Children Decide’ allows parents to relax and to trust in their children’s appetite.
It means that parents are responsible for:
- What their children are offered to eat – it’s important to offer a variety of healthy foods at each meal and snack so children have the opportunity to eat them. Try and offer the same foods that the rest of the family is having rather than having a separate meal for your children. Be considerate to your child by including at least one food within the meal you know they will eat if they are hungry.
- When they eat – Aim to serve 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks at roughly the same time each day, with only water in between. Children have small stomachs, so they need to eat regularly however try to avoid grazing as hungry children are more likely to try new foods!
- Where they eat –meals should be at the table shared with as many of the family as possible. Mealtimes should be calm, positive and enjoyable without distractions such as TV. We know that children who eat family meals eat better, maintain a healthy weight, have enhanced social skills, feel better about themselves and experience greater academic achievement. Try serving family meals ‘buffet style’, where food is served in the middle of the table so everyone can serve themselves, this can really help fussy eaters. It gives them control over what to eat, from what you offer, and they aren’t overwhelmed by a big plate of food or put off entirely if one of the foods on the plate is something they dislike.
It is then your child’s job to decide how much to eat and whether to eat at all from what you provide. In general, healthy children know how much food they need and if they are hungry. It’s normal for children’s appetites to be erratic and unpredictable. When we are worried about our children’s eating we find ourselves using tactics such as songs and games to encourage eating; pleading them to ‘just try some’; setting rules; bribing and force-feeding. All of these tactics are putting pressure on our children to eat and they never work. It can take more than 20 times of seeing food before your child tries it.
What works is taking the pressure off and trusting your child’s appetite. This will also help your stress levels – imagine just serving the food and knowing your job is done. So be a good role model, relax and enjoy your food and your child assumes “someday I will eat that too”.