Prevent Mealtime Struggles

When parents do their job of feeding, and allow their kids to do their job of eating, children are likely to grow well.

Sometimes, however, parents don't trust their children to know how much to eat and try to do their child's job. This can cause problems.

When parents try to control how much their children eat, it can set the stage for feeding and weight problems. Kids may lose touch with their own feelings of hunger and fullness to guide them.


Where Parents Make Mistakes

Some parents try to get their children to eat less than they want.

These parents may:

  • Be worried that their child is too fat or is growing too fast.
  • Have had weight problems themselves and want to prevent it in their child.
  • Think they need to cut back on food to prevent health or weight problems. They may try to cut back on serving size, second helpings, snacks and treats.

But restricting food is not recommended!

Getting enough to eat is our most basic human need. Children who feel they cannot get enough to eat feel scared and become preoccupied with food. These children will likely overeat whenever they get the chance: when their parents aren't watching; when they are at a friend's house; or when they are older and able to go to the convenience store on their own. This can lead to weight gain.

What can parents do?

  • Learn more about the parent's job of feeding and the child's job of eating. Visit Ellyn Satter's website.
  • Discuss the situation with the family doctor; request a referral to a dietitian or other health professional who has training in helping parents with feeding issues.
  • Examine your own attitudes about weight and restricting food.

Some parents try to get their child to eat more than they want.

These parents may be worried that their child:

  • Is not eating enough and will get sick.
  • Is small compared to many children and isn't growing properly.
  • Has very few foods that they will eat.

Unfortunately, in trying to help, parents may keep urging their child to eat more even if the child shows little interest or indicates he has had enough. Parents may try various tricks to try to get their child to eat more, such as:

  • Give frequent reminders to eat more and make special foods to tempt them.
  • Allow them to eat anything they want to make sure they're eating something.

As a result, mealtime can become a big struggle and children may not get a balance of nutrients.

But it is nearly impossible to make a child eat if they don't want to!

The more parents push a child to eat, the more likely it is that their child will be turned off. And the more parents cater to their child's likes and dislikes, the pickier their child will become. What can parents do?

  • Learn more about the parent's job of feeding and the child's job of eating. Visit Ellyn Satter's website.
  • Discuss the situation with your family doctor. Request a referral to a dietitian or other health professional trained to help parents with feeding issues.
  • Examine your own parenting style in feeding your children.
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