Family Meal Time - Part 1

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There are some crazy emotions that come with being a parent. I have experienced many of them first hand this past year with my little 11 month old daughter.  A major one I would like to discuss is WORRY.  Parents worry that their child is not warm enough, dressed well enough, sleeping properly, eating or drinking enough, eating or drinking too much... and on and on the list goes!

When it comes to food, I know as a parent I just want my little girl to grow the way she was meant to grow, to be healthy.  I want her to eat enough, but not too much.  And trying to find this balance can lead parents to dictate how much little ones should eat.  The issue with this approach is that we don’t know how much our little ones need.  Everyone has a different metabolism.  Also, if I dictate how much my preschooler needs to eat, she will never learn to listen to her body.  What will she do when she is older and I’m not there to tell her how much to eat?  On top of that, every meal (and I mean EVERY MEAL) will be a battle between parent and child over how much to eat, what to eat, finishing vegetables before dessert, etc.  NO FUN!  This is not a table of which I would like to be in attendance meal after meal, day after day!  Especially when food intake is the one thing over which a preschooler has control!!!

So how can we raise our children to be competent eaters without fighting about it at every meal?  How can we make meal times pleasant and enjoyable, a time for relationship building rather than arguments over broccoli.

First, let’s define a COMPETENT EATER... That means that a child listens to his body and stops when he has eaten enough, when he is full. According to Internationally renowned Pediatric Dietitian Ellyn Satter, there is a division of responsibility between parents and infants/children/teenagers when it comes to feeding and meal times. Ellyn Satter Institute

Here is the general premise: 

When your child is fed regularly and predictably (with no grazing in between meals/snacks), she will be able to determine for herself how much she needs to eat.  Your child will also eat better when she eats with family (family meal is defined as at least one parent and at least one child eating together).  Research has found that family meals are associated with better eating (quality of meals) and good eating patterns and may positively influence such things as disordered eating behaviours, mental health and substance abuse substance abuse.

Division of Responsibility

PARENTS are responsible for:

  • WHAT is offered: family foods.  You as mom and dad get to pick what your child will be offered each meal.   Be sure to include at least one thing that everyone at the table will eat (e.g. yogurt, or bread, or salad).
  • WHERE children eat: at the table.  TV/video games/Ipad/Ipod/ etc OFF.  Homework away.  No distractions.
  • WHEN they are fed: every 2-3 hours.  Yes, that’s right.  2-3 hours.  Sounds like a lot, but children have tiny tummies and need to be fed regularly.  In between meals, only water.  No juice or milk or cookies, or candies, etc.

CHILDREN are responsible for:

  • IF THEY WILL EAT.  Sometimes they choose not to. DO NOT FORCE OR ENCOURAGE your child to eat more of a specific food.  Let them explore it and slowly grow to like a food.
  • HOW MUCH they will eat.  Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. NEVER force a child to eat, and NEVER NEVER NEVER force food into a child’s mouth.

You might be a little bit skeptical about this approach.  I have used this approach in my paediatric clinics with my kiddies who are picky eaters, my kiddies who need to gain more weight, my kiddies who are bigger.  It works for EVERYONE in the family.  Follow the division of responsibility and stop worrying about who ate their veggies.

Stay Tuned for Part 2...  Putting it all together...

Come meet Eliana & hear her speak about Feeding Your Family, this Wednesday March 19th at 10am. A few spots are still available in this workshop. Please Register Online or contact us via phone: 416.972.9367 or email: info@fifty-seven.ca