We know how important it is to have a good diet to keep our bodies and minds healthy. This is especially true for young children, who are in constant development and who need a healthy and varied diet to fuel all this energy. However, about a quarter of parents are reporting that they have a picky eater, while on the other side of the fence, the percentage of children who are overweight is increasing at an alarming rate. How can we know if our child is eating properly and what can we do to teach him to have a healthy relationship with food?
The picky eater
There are several reasons that may cause your child to eat less than other children, most temporary like his mood, fatigue or a decreased level of physical activity. Some kids will also just have a naturally less voracious appetite while still fulfilling their individual nutritional needs. This is because each child grows at a different rate, and that will affect its appetite accordingly. In addition, children have the natural ability to recognize the signals of hunger and satiety, and it’s important to respect them in order to not distort the signals over time. The important thing is that your child is growing properly while having a healthy and varied diet combined with physical exercise.
If his development or the quality and quantity of food he eats daily worries you, it might be appropriate to make some dietary changes to avoid this habits to have a negative impact on his long-term health.
Tip and tricks for the picky eaters
- Children are naturally curious; explore this beautiful personality trait by involving them in the preparation of the meals and allowing them to discover the colorful and varied nutritious foods you are serving.
- Provide fresh juices rather than sweet juices made from concentrate and prioritize water between meals and milk during meals to rehydrate them.
- Try to establish a regular schedule of meals and snacks so your child can anticipate those moments rather than being surprised mid-play.
- Let your child have some choice over what he is eating. For example, you can choose the quality of the food but let him decide how much he wants of each item.
- Don’t force your child to finish his plate; it could make him develop bad habits.
- Take your meals at the table with your family, and make it a positive experience without distractions like the television.
- Don’t give punishments or rewards that involve food.
- If your child doesn’t like something, serve it with something he likes to balance.
- The latest research shows that it is not advisable to deprive a child of dessert because it encourages the perception that dessert is a reward. Rather, it’s preferable to limit sweet treats to two meals a day and offer fruits after the other meals.
The child who eats too much
Your child seems like a bottomless pit and eats a staggering amount of food, which is starting to worry you? Just like the child who seems to not be eating enough, it may be that his individual nutritional needs are more important or it may be caused by a temporary situation like a growth spurt or increased physical activity, but it’s also possible that this behavior is caused by a problem like emotional eating or distorted hunger and satiety signals.
Whatever the reason for his voracious appetite, there are several strategies you can use to ensure you are providing a healthy food environment for your child to help him learn how to make the right choices:
- As a preventive measure, it’s important to always respect your child’s natural signals of hunger and satiety in order to avoid distorting them in the future.
- Remember that you are in control of what is being served to your child and which foods he has access to in the house. Just as it can be difficult for us to resist the temptation of a chocolate bar hidden in the pantry, you can’t blame a child for choosing the cookies instead of the apple for dessert. For this reason, it’s important to make good food choices and to offer a healthy and varied selection.
- Set a good example by making healthier food choices yourself.
- Some children eat a lot because they eat really fast. Teach your kids to eat slowly, to chew well and to enjoy the flavors.
- Avoid focusing too much on how much they are eating, do portion control or restrict certain foods, as it will make this a negative experience for your child.
- In case of doubt, you can consult a nutritionist who can help you determine if your child’s food intake is adequate for his needs and who can give you tips on how to improve his diet.