Helping your child to eat well
Good eating helps children nutritionally and socially. To help your child be a good eater, you dont have to make him eat nutritious food, or control the amount he eats. Your child wants to grow up with eating and will gradually learn to like a variety of food. He also knows how much he needs to eat. He goes by his feelings of hunger and fullness to eat the right amount to grown well (see HOW MUCH SHOULD YOUR CHILD EAT?).
Feeding children demands a division of responsibility: Parents decide what, when, and where; children decide how much and whether.
You are the gatekeeper on food selection.
You decide what food comes into the house and goes on the table. Of course, you pay attention to what your family does and doesnt like, but you dont have to be enslaved by their food preferences. You know more about food, and about eating, than your child does. He wants and needs to learn from you. Its a mistake to limit the menu to foods your child easily accepts.
You are the timekeeper on feeding time.
You decide when meals and snacks are offered. Your child needs regular meals and planned snacks, timed about every 2 or 3 hours so in between times he can get hungry but not starving. His stomach is small and his energy needs are high: He cant make it from one meal to the next without eating.
But dont let him panhandle for food. When he begs for specific foods, it puts him in charge of the menu, as well as the timing. If he fills up between times - even on nutritious foods and beverages - he wont be hungry at mealtime, and he wont learn to eat a variety of food.
You decide where.
It isnt safe to let your child run with food - he might choke. It also makes a mess, and interferes with your needs. When children eat only at the table, they learn to take eating seriously. You are alsoless likely to give food handouts for other reasons, like skinned knees, hurt feelings, and general crankiness.
Its up to you to make it friendly.
Studies show that children eat best if someone they trust sits down and eats with them. That grownup should be companionable and friendly, but not nag them about their eating. When you eat with your child, keep thrilling distractions and riotous laughter down (children can choke or forget to eat). But do be there.
Children will learn to like a variety of food. When your child sees you eating something, he assumes that some day he will eat it, too. The first several times you serve the food, he might just look at it. Then one day, he might taste it, but take it back out of his mouth. Dont despair! Hes not rejecting it; hes just getting used to it and getting ready to swallow it. Research tells us that children may taste and remove new food from their mouths at 10 or 15 meals before they swallow it. Then they like it - and they will eat it - some of the time.
Children are erratic about their eating.
Your child may eat a food enthusiastically one day, not the next, and then again the next. He may love a food, then suddenly refuse it for months. He might eat an enormous breakfast and snack, then very little the rest of the day. He wont eat some of everything at a meal, but only one or two foods.
Children do all of these seemingly maddening things because they are very sensitive to their hunger and appetite. They will stop in the middle of a bowl of ice cream if they get full. They will tire of even favorite foods and eat something else.
Children know how much they need to eat.
Every child grows differently and every child needs a different amount of food. Some days your child is hungry, some days not. Some days he is active, some days not. You have to trust your child to know how much he needs to eat.
The way you can tell whether your child is eating the right amount is by the way he grows. If he grows smoothly and predictably, and you offer a variety of nutritious foods in a friendly fashion, he will do just fine.
Do your job, let your child do his, and he will eat well.
Ellyn Satter, author oh How to Get Your Kid to Eat ... But Not Too Much. Bull Publishing, Palo Alto, CA