Parents across the globe have experienced difficulties feeding their children.
It seems to be a world-wide trait shared by toddlers the world over to, sometimes with no prior warning whatsoever, spit out this or that as it comes into contact with their mouths.
As parents all we want for our children is for them to grow up healthy and happy, to develop into happy and healthy adults.
What are we do to then, when our little cherubs start spitting out our lovingly prepared avocado puree or bits of broccoli?
Some of us are advised to force feed our kids but what does the research have to say on this method?
What should we do when getting our children to eat is anything but a piece of cake?
Who is an expert in this area?
Dr. Ihuoma Eneli is the medical director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
She has been working in the area of infant eating habits and development for some time and has come to understand the pitfalls and opportunities when it comes to feeding our children.
Mealtime dynamics are important
Through consistent research Dr Eneli has found that there are significant links between pressure feeding and negative impacts later in life.
“The feeding dynamic between caregivers and their toddlers as a factor in childhood obesity is truly underestimated.”
“We’re finding that if mealtime becomes a battleground or filled with tension, it could establish a relationship with food that leads kids to unhealthy eating behaviors later.”
The approach to feeding our children is important. As Dr Eneli has discovered, the dynamic that children first experience food can impact how they approach it later in life.
What can parents control?
In approaching the mealtime experience, Dr Eneli encourages parents to be in control of the how, when, where and what of children eating.
In order to facilitate a healthy feeding dynamic parents can choose the tools of eating, time, place and the food substance but to avoid being intensely restrictive or controlling.
Without these pressurised boundaries of consumption, children are able to navigate the eating process with a sense of independence (within the control of the how, when, where and what of a parent).
Dr Eneli says that it important to let children choose the quantity and order of eating what’s on their plate but also the option not to eat as well.
Through this sense of independence children are able to develop their understanding of what it is to be full.
Dr Eneli highlights that when parents force kids to ‘clean their plate’ or eat a set amount of a certain food, they are hijacking the organic process of children learning about food, their bodies and being able to listen to their bodies.
What are the negative consequences of force and controlled feeding?
Dr. Eneli explains “When parents are excessively restrictive about eating, two things happen.
One, kids learn to eat when they are not hungry.
Two, the struggle gives food more power than it should really have and kids are very intuitive about how they can use that as leverage.
The long term result could be dysfunctional thinking about the role that food has in a person’s life.”
Putting Food In Its Plate
Dr Eneli sympathises with all parents, as a mother herself she has spoken about the frustrations picky eaters cause from a personal standpoint.
She understands that all parents want is for their children to eat balanced and healthy meals yet the consumption of those meals can sometimes fall flat.
She encourages parents that even if their child is going through a stage of picky eating, as parents they do have ultimate control because they choose what goes on the plate to start with.
Is it then ok to allow for the child to have a sense of independence as they navigate what it is to choose what to eat on their plate and how much.
Giving children a sense of control in the eating process can help with their relationship to food later in life.
Tips From The Doctor
Dr Eneli encourages parents to try the following in their journey of developing healthy eating habits with their children.
Dessert is not king
Eneli says to take the sparkle out of dessert.
Rather than having it as the prize if a child eats ‘everything on their plate’ have a little bowl of pureed pear and honey incorporated into the meal.
Serve smaller portions of everything
This allows for the child to ask for seconds if they are still hungry and allows their opinion regarding food to be heard, bolstering trust in the feeding process.
“The child is learning about feeling full while having her opinion respected, and that grows trust – a very positive emotion to have in relation to feeding.”
Kids rejecting veggies? Get creative
Eneli says that big reactions to kid’s spitting out veggies may reinforce that they are “bad”.
See it as a journey and keep finding ways to reintroduce it using light dressing or a little butter.
It’s important to note that in this journey of helping our kids to form healthy habits with food, we ourselves are also still learning.
Know that ups and downs will happen and seeking the help of a trusted medical professional is always an option.