Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN
Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.
“Finish your meal, there are starving children in the world!” Have you ever been told this phrase as a child or even voiced it out of frustration to your own children? Or how about, “If you don’t eat dinner, you can’t have dessert!” Feeding kids can be challenging these days, especially when there are weight concerns, picky eaters, rising food costs, and busy family schedules — but what is the right approach?
The concept of raising healthy eaters cannot be discussed without mention of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding.
The Division of Responsibility for toddlers through adolescents:
1) The parent is responsible for what, when, & where.
Parents choose and prepare the food, provide family meals and snacks, make eating times pleasant, and avoid food or beverages (except for water) between set meals and snacks.
2) The child is responsible for how much & whether.
Children have natural ability with eating. They eat as much as they need, they grow in the way that is right for them, and they learn to eat the food their parents eat. We were all born with this natural ability to recognize hunger and fullness signals, but as we enter adulthood it becomes less acknowledged.
Children’s appetite tends to fluctuate based on their activity level and how quickly they are growing at a given time, so there will be days when a kid needs to eat more than other days. When children are forced to become a member of the “clean plate club”, this can cause them to overeat, not listen to their body’s internal hunger and fullness queues, or learn healthy eating habits on their own. It may also lead to a dislike for those healthy foods they're being forced to finish. Also, portion sizes today have increased tremendously compared to 50 years ago, so we cannot rely on the portion as an indicator for what is appropriate anymore.
Often, parents want their child to eat foods that they never eat themselves. Your child will be more willing to try new foods if they see everyone eating the same thing. This observance starts very early on in childhood and is yet another reason driving the importance of everyone sitting down together. It takes 12 to 17 times for a child to be exposed to a food before they are interested in trying it, so stick with it for the long haul!
If you're having trouble with picky eating, be sure to check out our Renzo's Picky Eater Multi with 18 hand-selected vitamins designed to cover any nutrient gaps and give parents peace of mind.
Food should be used as nourishment for the body, not as a reward, bribe, or punishment. When sweets or chips are given for a child doing something desirable (or taken away as a punishment), they may become more appealing, which can undermine the healthy eating habits trying to be created. This leads children to start to prefer "treats" instead of more nutritious foods.
When “treats” are used to make a child feel better, they can become reliant on these high calorie / high sugar foods to help them regulate their emotions and can develop a dependency on these foods for comfort. Instead, involve your child in selecting non-food rewards that are meaningful to them — try stickers, a trip to the park, picking the movie for movie night, extra reading time before bed, or getting out of doing a chore.
Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.