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Is Your Approach to Feeding Your Kids All Wrong?

Discussion in 'Pediatrics' started by Ghada Ali youssef, Feb 18, 2017.

  1. Ghada Ali youssef

    Ghada Ali youssef Golden Member

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    Feeding kids is not for the faint of heart. It’s a hard job. But it’s worth the effort.

    Historically, food scarcity influenced how children were fed. The “clean your plate” approach came from the fear of not having enough food to eat.

    Today, food is everywhere. Yet, feeding kids may still involve encouraging them to finish their food, take more bites or eat a certain amount for their health. Using treats to reward kids for eating healthy food and restricting unhealthy choices are other ways we try to mold kids’ eating and improve their health. These feeding tactics are employed with good intention – the aim being to help kids eat better. But they can be counterproductive.

    Pressuring Kids to Eat More

    Studies have suggested that focusing attention on eating a certain amount of food may promote overeating and result in a lower sensitivity to the amount of calories consumed. In other words, encouraging children to eat more may teach them to overeat.

    Pressure can have an opposite effect, too. A 2006 study in the journal Appetite found that children experienced early fullness and didn’t eat more food when pressured, but instead ate less. Kids also showed a dislike for the food they felt pressured to eat, like vegetables. Other longitudinal studies have shown that when the pressure to eat is high, the intake of fruits and vegetables is lower.

    Using Sweets to Reward Healthy Eating

    The use of sweets to encourage a child to eat healthy food, like vegetables, is another common approach. But research shows kids learn to prefer sweets – the reward food – instead of vegetables, and some learn to dislike vegetables. Additionally, using sweets to reward or motivate good behavior may increase kids’ preference for them.

    Having a no sweets policy isn’t advisable, either. Some parents ban all candy, desserts, soda and other unhealthy items in the house. Several studies have shown, however, that restricting access to palatable foods like these may promote overeating them when they're available.

    There’s Another Way

    As you can see, even with good intentions, some feeding approaches may have negative side effects, causing more complications with children’s eating and appetite regulation. The good news is that we know quite a bit about how to feed kids effectively.

    Here’s how you can take a more positive and effective approach to feeding your child:

    Schedule meals and snacks. Today, everyone is busy. Tight and chaotic schedules may cause mealtimes to be unpredictable. Yet, children thrive on predictability, schedules and routine, and so does their appetite. Structured meals and snacks, which occur at regularly timed intervals, offer predictable opportunities for your child to eat throughout the day, helping him meet his nutritional needs while promoting appetite regulation.

    Put boundaries in place. Boundaries are the limits and policies parents use to help children regulate what they eat. A boundary, such as a policy of no snacking before dinner, a day-to-day strategy for managing sweets or closing the kitchen between meals, is a strategy to manage food in the home without being restrictive or overly controlling. Over time, these limits teach your child how to manage his appetite, eating and food selection.

    Give kids real choices. Let your child have a say in what she eats by offering her a choice. Giving younger children two choices and older kids three options works well. You might ask, for instance, “Would you like an apple with peanut butter or crackers with peanut butter?” Similarly, if an older child is going to be late for dinner, you might ask in advance if he will join the family for dinner or would prefer a plate for later.

    When children are allowed to choose, it helps them have a sense of control. Opportunities to make food decisions help build your child’s autonomy and independence, which may result in better cooperation around food and eating.

    Monitor what your child eats. Paying attention to what your child eats throughout the day allows you to make adjustments as needed. For example, if your child had several treats at school, you may decide to forego the planned dessert in the evening.

    Negative approaches to feeding your child may derail appetite regulation, shift food preferences and adversely affect your child’s developing relationship with food. Positive feeding, however, can lead to healthy eating habits, including nutritious food choices, mindful eating and a positive relationship with food.

    While food is important, it isn’t the end-all, be-all of raising a healthy eater. If you struggle with your child’s eating, look beyond food for your solution. Your approach to feeding your child may be the problem.

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