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Eating Behaviour

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One of the most common concerns parents have around their kids eating is fussy eating. Parents are usually concerned that their kids refuse foods that they used to eat or are progressively reducing the range of foods they will eat. Parents feel they have tried everything from rewarding, to bribing to threatening and meal times have become a battleground, unpleasant for all concerned. Parents may even end up cooking 2 or 3 different meals for the family to cater for all the fussy eaters. Often to add to the frustration these kids eat everything at childcare!

It’s time to establish a Division of Responsibility. This is a subject heavily researched by American Dietitian and Family Therapist Ellyn Satter. Parents are responsible for what, when and where food is eaten. Children are responsible for whether and how much food is eaten. It is not parents job to get food into the child. With infants parents decide what is fed ie breast or bottle, the infant is in control of everything else. The parent helps the infant to be calm and organized and feeds smoothly, paying attention to information coming from the baby about timing, tempo, frequency and amounts.It’s time to establish a Division of Responsibility. This is a subject heavily researched by American Dietitian and Family Therapist Ellyn Satter. Parents are responsible for what, when and where food is eaten. Children are responsible for whether and how much food is eaten. It is not parents job to get food into the child. With infants parents decide what is fed ie breast or bottle, the infant is in control of everything else. The parent helps the infant to be calm and organized and feeds smoothly, paying attention to information coming from the baby about timing, tempo, frequency and amounts.

Parents Jobs Children’s Job
  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behaviour
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages between meal and snack times
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them
  • Children will eat
  • They will eat the amount they need
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at the table

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat. If parents do their jobs with feeding, children will do their jobs with eating. Problems arise when we adults cross the boundaries and try to do children’s jobs for them.

This may seem terribly simplistic when you are in the middle of a pitched battle to get your child to eat anything green, however think about what you are doing at the moment, is it working? how do you feel? Is it worth trying something “crazy” like letting your child get on with it themselves (or not)?

The first step is to get organised:

  • You’ll need a general menu of meals and snacks for each day, simple foods are fine.
  • Plan for kids to have eating opportunities approximately every 2 – 2.5 hours. For example
    • Breakfast 7:30
    • Morning Tea 9:30/10:00,
    • Lunch 12:00,
    • Afternoon Tea 2:30 (or after sleep/rest time),
    • Dinner 5:00 (or if dinner is later, so you can all eat together, include a late afternoon snack around 4:00)

Note: Modify the times to suit your families routine

  • Plan meals and snacks – always some carbohydrate food – fruit, dairy (milk or yoghurt), breads, crackers, pasta, legumes plus some protein – dairy (milk, yoghurt, cheese) meat/chicken/fish, legumes and some fruit or vegetables. Yes, some of these foods like dairy serve a dual purpose.
  • Make a list of some simple meals and snacks your kids like and things you would like them to try, include these in your menu. Make sure you shop well so all these foods are available in the house.
  • The grown-ups in the house may need to have a conversation as these changes will affect everybody. You need to be united in how you want this to work!

Remember it is your job to decide what is served and when. If your kids are up to it, talk about some of the changes you are making.

  • Give kids a bit of notice (10-15 min) that the meal or snack time is coming, this gives them time to wash hands, stop whatever activity they are doing and prepare. You may need to let them know again 5 minutes beforehand!
  • Always eat at the table, make sure the TV is off (this is the time that grown-up conversation before initiating these changes pays off!)
  • Make sure kids know that they can have as much as they like whilst at the table. Once they have had enough they can get down. They don’t get to come back in 10 minutes and have more. They get to eat again at the next meal of snack time (which is only 2-2.5 hours away). This is where you need to be strong, as most parents have a tough time refusing food to a fussy eater.

The goal in all of this is to teach your child the value of meal times and the consequence of their choice to eat or not. It also takes pressure of children who have been given too much choice and control with food and eating, it frees them up to be a kid.

It is so important that you know you are a role model. The best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is to enjoy your food and respect your body. If this is not the case you need to speak to a professional (your GP, a dietitian, or psychologist) and get help for yourself.

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