Unlike adults, our little munchkins are more in tune with their bodies. They naturally know how much to eat. Thus, despite our good intentions, we must stop forcing them to finish their plate.
The inconsistencies of hunger
Hunger represents a physical need to eat. It is a signal sent by our body to indicate that it needs energy. However, hunger is not stable over time and several factors can influence it. In children, we note their growth stage, their level of physical activity, what they ate during the day, what they drank before the meal, etc. And because hunger varies from day to day, from meal to meal, and from child to child, you can't guess how hungry they are every day. So, before sitting at the table, ask your children: "Do you have a small, medium, or big appetite?"
This sentence allows the child to connect to their body and to recognize the sensations that inhabit it (eg small emptiness in the stomach, gurgling, drop in energy). It's also a great way to show your child your confidence in their ability to manage their hunger and suddenly help them develop their autonomy in regards to the quantity of food they need. Finally, it allows you to better measure the amount of food to serve and therefore, limit food waste. So remember, as parents, we are responsible for providing our children with quality food, but it is their responsibility to decide how much to eat.
The challenge: trust our children
Letting our children eat their fill does not mean letting them eat anything, any time of the day. It is important to establish a schedule of three meals a day, and snacks if necessary. Now what should we do when our children pretend to not be hungry because they don't like the food being served? Of course, you shouldn't force a child to eat, but we can still try to understand what they don't like. By questioning my children more, I realized that it is sometimes the texture that they do not like, and not the taste itself. Other times it was spices. “Barriers” that I can easily overcome by preparing foods differently, if only by serving raw broccoli on the plate rather than cooked. We all benefit from listening more to the needs of our children and above all, trusting them.
Written by Julie DesGroseilliers
Nutritionist and spokesperson for the J’aime les fruits et légumes movement