Feeding kiddies can be hard. One minute they love a food the next they hate it. One day they have huge appetites and eat everything in sight, the next they pick at meals and eat virtually nothing. These behaviours are understandably frustrating, but actually completely normal! Children, especially the littler ones, are great at listening to their tummies and eating intuitively. As they get older they respond more to external hunger cues (the smell of fried food as you drive past fast food joints, the smell of baking bread in bakers or supermarkets, food adverts, what their friends are eating and any other social or emotional cues or rules they may learn from family and friends (think “eat all your dinner or you won’t get dessert” (teaches over eating), or eating when feeling sad or angry etc)
When kiddies are being fussy or difficult around meal times, it can be helpful to think of it like this:
It’s our responsibility (as parents and caregivers) to choose which foods we offer our kiddies and what times these foods are offered. It’s our job to provide a safe and relaxed place to eat.
It’s our kiddies responsibility to choose which foods they eat, from what’s offered, and how much.
It’s really important that you don’t encourage your kiddy to eat more or less, or comment on the amounts pr types of food your kiddy is eating. As a parent, this is very hard to do!
Kiddies are very good and listening to their tummy’s or their tummy voice. Allowing kids to follow their appetite and eat accordingly, is very important. Their appetites vary depending on how much they are growing, their individual needs and how much activity they do. And no portion size or calorie guessing will be more accurate than their “tummy voice”.
If you follow the Division of Responsibility (DOR), you have clear guidelines for both you and your child as to who does what. There is no confusion and your kiddy will know exactly what’s to be expected. If you’ve got feeding issues with your kiddy, it can take a few months, after starting DOR, to get into the swing of things and to be consistent with it. It can take your kiddy a few months also, to get their head around it and realise that it’s completely up to them how much they eat. They soon tune back into their hunger signals and because you’re not yelling at them to eat, there’s no meal time battle ground and they will eat!
My 11 year old had faltering growth, many, many doctors and specialists later, we had no diagnosis and advice to “just feed her more”. So I tried. I force fed her 4000 calories a day ( to put that into perspective that’s nearly double what I would eat, but I did all the dietitian calculations to work out how much she needed and that was the magic figure).
After a few weeks of this, the feeding issues got so bad, Miss 11 even refused to eat ice cream. Instead of gaining weight, she lost it, over 6% of her body weight (which is a huge amount).
I was doing the exact opposite of DOR. I was telling my kid exactly how much she had to eat, even when she wasn’t hungry. I was doing her job AND my job of feeding. Meal times were horrible. I was upset. She refused to eat. There was a lot of yelling. And a lot of friction. She got sicker and thinner. I went back to the Doctors, but a different one, for a second opinion. We (finally!) got a diagnosis of SIBO (more about that here) and we know she has the genes for Coeliac so she’s completely gf and I implemented DOR.
I was terrified it wouldn’t work. What if she got thinner? What if she stopped eating altogether? With her SIBO treatment and DOR implemented, she stopped losing weight immediately. It took a few months for me to get DOR right and to stop putting MY worries onto my kid. Now, 6 months later, she’s starting to gain weight (hoorah!). She no longer has all her bones sticking out everywhere and most importantly, her health is back. She eats well, most of the time and is allowed to listen to her tummy. Some days she eats heaps, some days she doesn’t.
Why am I telling you this? Because I know first hand how f****** hard it is to be worried about your child’s weight and health. I know how stressful meals can be and how annoying fussy kids can be. I totally get it! The division of responsibility works. If you are not already following those principles, then start. Now!
There are a few other things that you can do to make feeding times brilliant.
1. Make sure meal times are predictable. They sit at the table, on the same chair, the same behaviour is expected at each meal time and the meals themselves are at predictable times. Not all kids need snacks, but generally breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (all at predictable times), is a great start for kiddies. When kiddies know what their role is and what’s expected from them, it’s much easier getting them eating!
2. Eat with your kids as much as possible. There are so many reasons to eat with your children (read more here), kids that eat with their families are more likely to eat better, have better nutrition, be a healthy weight and do better at school. Teenagers that eat meals with family are more likely to do better at school and less likely to get into trouble, shoplift, or experiment with drugs or alcohol. Family meals help bonding as well as increasing nutrition.
3. Always talk about food in a positive way. Even if you think it’s yuk, your kids might think it’s yum and that’s another food win! But there is no chance of getting kids eating foods, if you obviously don’t like them.
4. Let kiddies try different foods. Let them explore tastes and textures, even if you don’t think they’ll like it.
5. Eat the same foods. You are not a short order cook and your kitchen is not a restaurant. If your child doesn’t want what you have served up, remember that is THEIR choice. But they don’t get anything else, until the next meal. Kids need to learn about normal eating. And sometimes that means eating foods they don’t love, because they are hungry and their body needs food.
6. Make sure that meal times are a relaxed and a positive experience. Try and make sure family meals are a positive experience. If it helps relax the atmosphere, let go of the fights over table manners, using cutlery appropriately etc. Sometimes, it pays to pick your battles! If food and fussy eating is a problem, implement the division of responsibility and take the focus of meals off the food, make the focus of meals about sharing how everyone’s day went and telling jokes.
One last important point. There is a major difference between a fussy eater and a picky eater. If your kid:
- gets overly anxious, worried or scared around food
- only eats certain coloured foods (eg. white)
- eats less than 20 different types of foods
- doesn’t like different foods touching on the plate
- has a very limited diet
- has difficulty chewing, swallowing or manipulating food in their mouth
- often spits food out
- refuses to try new foods
If your kid does one or many of these things, they may be a picky eater. Picky eaters, don’t grow out of their eating behaviours and you may need help from a specialist pediatrician, speech language therapist and/or a specialised dietitian or feeding expert.
For more information on the Division of Responsibility click here.
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