My three-year-old seems to eat a lot more than other kids his age. During meal times, he always asks for second helpings, and he often snacks in between meals too. Is this normal among kids his age group? Should I be restricting the amount of food he eats during his meals?
There is a wide spectrum of eating behaviours amongst children, ranging from those who are small and picky eaters, to those with very good appetites, like your son. Factors that contribute to your child's eating habits include the nature and timing of his exposure to various flavours, textures and varieties of foods as well as the accessibility to foods and the influence of the family's eating behaviour.
Parents and children have different roles and responsibilities in the feeding process. In general, parents should set an appropriate and nurturing feeding environment and decide what and when to feed their child, while their child decides how much he or she wants to eat. Hence, it is important for parents to provide a variety of healthy food options, with care to avoid less healthy foods, such as those with excessive salt or sugar content. This applies both to regular meals and snacks in-between.
A practical tip would be to reduce the availability of unhealthy foods at home. The pace of feeding is also important. A child who eats quickly may not notice the sensation of satiety and so, it may be prudent to have pauses during meals, which allows the child to more appropriately self-regulate his or her appetite and to prevent over-eating. On the other hand, environmental distractions such as television or mobile devices may lead to excessive pauses during meals and contribute to negative consequences such as increased preference for advertised foods and increased snack consumption.
Parental behaviour also influences the child's ability to self-regulate; shaping
their children's eating behaviour by transmitting their own
attitudes about food and feeding. Children will also be influenced by
how parents interact with them during meals.
It can be tricky to strike a balance in appropriately restricting and controlling a child's food intake. Excessive restriction and pressure can result in increasing a child's preference for the foods for which access is restricted and increased eating in the absence of hunger. This could lead to a reduction of a child's ability to self-regulate and increased pickiness with food choices.
It is thought that a parenting style that exerts a moderate balance of control over a child and warmly responding to and supporting the child will lead to the development of the healthiest feeding habits.
Question answered by:
Dr Joel Lim
Department of Neonatal & Developmental Medicine
Singapore General Hospital
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