‘How can I just let my child decide whether and how much to eat? They don’t know what they need… if I let them eat what they want, they wouldn’t eat dinner and go for sweets and junk’
This is something we hear quite a bit…
It can feel like kids will swim in chocolate cake if you let them, right?
To many parents, the idea of handing over control of something that is so important – ultimately their child’s nourishment and health – can be really hard. I can relate!
Recall that in ‘Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding’, the parent is responsible for WHAT, WHERE and WHEN – the child does not get free-reign to eat WHATever they want. The parent in charge of the WHAT bit. So when we talk about allowing the child to decide WHETHER and HOW MUCH, it’s of what the parent has offered.
Eating Competence is the ability to eat a range of foods in a relaxed positive manner, trusting that there will be enough food to eat and trusting the body’s appetite regulation to eat when hungry and stop eating when comfortably full.
To begin and to stop eating is a complex process. Appetite regulation, perception of hunger and satiety, eating behavior, and food preferences all play a role.
We can encourage Eating Competence through allowing a child to experience important learning about food and eating. We can support them as they learn how to respond to appetite signals.
In order for a child to become Eating Competent, they need time, trial & error and lots of practice:
– Sometimes a child will pile too much food on their plate or sometimes they may take too little.
– Sometimes a child will eat to discomfort and sometimes they will eat too little and feel hungry soon after.
– Sometimes a child will get it right and walk away from a meal feeling pretty comfortable ready to focus on something else non-food related.
– Sometimes they will get it wrong and might go looking for more food.
– Sometimes they get their familiar favourite food and sometimes they will be challenged by a food that they are still LEARNING to eat and enjoy.
This is okay…
A child can learn how to LISTEN and respond appropriately to their appetite regulation signals – and we can trust them to do this by offering them a range of foods, in structured and reliable eating environment. We can relax and enjoy eating food ourselves.
Being a matter of fact about foods can help us see children gravitate to a RANGE of foods at different times – not because their being restricted or feel guilty, but because their body just does.
Ines Astudillo, Paediatric Dietitian