Is your child a “picky” eater? Are mealtimes stressful because of your child’s eating? Do you feel you must make your child eat dinner for fear he/she will go hungry overnight? Dietician and therapist Ellyn Satter, in her book “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense,” offers advice about how parents can prevent their children from becoming picky eaters and how to encourage enjoyable, healthy mealtimes.
First and foremost she states feeding is parenting. Children learn how to eat and enjoy food by watching their parents eat and by being included in the social environment surrounding mealtimes. They will eat a variety of food and take responsibility for their own eating when they are regularly offered nutritious food in a no-pressure environment. Satter’s main thesis is that parents must maintain a division of responsibility when it comes to feeding.
Parents are responsible for the what, where and when of feeding. That means parents should offer nutritious food for three meals and two structured snacks daily. Food should be eaten with the child or as a family whenever possible and should be offered at a predictable time and place and in an appealing manner away from distractions such as television. Between meals and the planned snacks, a child should not be allowed to “panhandle” for juice or other food.
Your child is responsible for whether and how much he/she eats. This may mean your child could eat everything on the plate or just a few bites. It could also mean your child requests second or third portions of food.
Feeding problems occur when parents cross the lines of responsibility. If a parent feels his or her child is not eating enough of the nutritious foods that have been served, the parent may try to bribe the child to eat more, offering dessert as a reward or will offer another – usually less nutritious- option just to get the child to eat. At the other extreme a parent might refuse their child additional portions of requested foods for fear that the child is eating too much. Each of these approaches is perceived as “pressure” to a child, and crosses the lines of responsibility. Parents are not responsible for whether or how much their child eats. A child is likely to push back against the pressure and do the opposite of what the parent is trying to achieve. Mealtimes become battlegrounds, parents and children are anxious and unhappy.
Problems may also occur if children attempt to cross their lines of responsibility. A child who constantly panhandles for food or a sippy cup of milk or juice throughout the day interferes with the parent responsibility of what, where and when a child eats. When parents are providing structured meals and snacks, panhandling will be resolved.
Satter encourages parents to trust that their children know when they are hungry or not and that they will regulate their intake based on their genetic blueprint. Appropriate feeding is based on trust. Parents must trust in their child’s ability to eat and grow the way nature intended.
Finally, Satter says that parents will know they are on the right track with feeding if the parent and child are having fun. If one or both of you is not enjoying the feeding relationship, seek help.
Is your child a “picky eater?” Do you agree with the points listed above? Let us know in the comments below!
For more information on working with a “picky eater,” visit www.EsseHealth.com.
By Jane Hoekelman, Esse Health Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Esse Health Creve Coeur Pediatrics
11630 Studt Avenue, Suite 200
Creve Coeur, MO 63141