Now, I know I titled this post, “How to ‘get’ your child to eat,” but what if I told you that it is not your job to “get” your child to eat. In our current culture we have a strong passion for nutrition and what we eat, but with that has come a weight/growth obsessed society. So often I hear my clients comparing one child to the next or one friend’s child to their child. I’ve heard comments such as, “My daughter is so skinny, I can’t understand why my other is so chubby” or “I’ve fed them the same way and he will eat everything while she doesn’t eat anything I put on the table.” I have even had friends and relatives comment on how well my daughter eats and often ask, “How did you get her to eat so well.”
First let me explain, we have recently entered the stage of the INDEPENDENT 2 year old and boy has she challenged me in every aspect of parenting and YES even feeding. Thank goodness I’ve had the training to understand this stage will pass as long as I stay consistent. It begins with understanding, it’s NOT your job to “get” them to eat. Each child is unique and will have their own growth patterns, eating style and food preferences and it’s likely not your fault. I mean who teaches us HOW to feed our children correctly?
Following these 6 parent-focused steps can help you steer your child towards becoming a competent eater:
1. Don’t try so hard. In the Division of Responsibility it is said that your job as a parent is to decide what, when and where to serve the food. It is your children’s job to decide what to eat and how much to eat from what is served. Do your job by putting a variety of food on the table every 2-3 hours and then leave the rest up to them.
2. Don’t take it personally. It’s not your cooking, it is your child’s innate ability to show their independence. They exhibit independence by showing you they can decide what goes in their mouth. It’s not you, it’s them.
3. Serve variety. Include 1-2 starchy foods, fruit and/or vegetable, a protein, milk and a fat at each meal. The variety will allow them to the come to the table and be able to choose something to eat. It’s about setting them up for success and not failure.
4. Mind your own meal. When you interfere with their eating things can go terribly wrong (remember that little independent person). Refrain from coaxing, rewarding, bribing or forcing the food issue. Once the food is served, end the food discussion. Talk about your day, fun talk and bonding conversations to help the feeding environment to become a positive experience.
5. Do it all over again in 2-3 hours. Children will not eat at some meals for a variety of reasons. They don’t like what is served, they aren’t hungry or maybe they are just “in a mood.” By giving them the opportunity to eat again in a few hours you can be reassured as a parent that they will get enough to eat and it takes the pressure off of them.
6. Consistency AND Patience! Changes take time and consistency. Don’t give up the first day, the second day or even the tenth day because each child will have their own time table learning to become a competent eater. Most important in the whole process…say what you mean and mean what you say!
You have to support the child that you have, not the one you thought you would. Try not to compare them to others because while your child may struggle with their eating another child may struggle with sleep or potty training or even listening skills. While forcing them to eat more or less may seem like the logical next step to take, this pressure can cause even worse issues with their eating in the long run.
I’d love to hear what you have found successful in feeding your children. Please feel free to comment below!