If you’re guilty of these feeding mistakes, here are some alternative solutions to instil healthier eating habits in your child.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Eating habits developed in early childhood can have a significant impact on a child’s relationship with food that can last throughout his life. But trying to cultivate healthy eating habits in your child can be tricky – what if the feeding habits you’re teaching your child are harming him rather than helping? Here are some common feeding mistakes parents make, and the solutions you can adopt instead.
Giving Up Too Fast
Ever tried offering your child something new to eat, only to give up after a few tries because your child keeps rejecting it? A common mistake parents make is giving up too soon when attempting to introduce their child to new foods. Plus, it’s tempting to stick to a few of your child’s favourite foods as you will be spared the possible tantrums when your child doesn’t want to eat something he’s unfamiliar with.
Patience is essential when introducing your child to a new food; it can take as many as ten to 15 tries for your child to like the taste of something new. As advised by Lee Sze Mien, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, “Children may need many tries before they accept a new food, so keep trying and don’t give up! Try offering new foods more often, let them touch it, smell it, or play with it, and encourage them to try a small bite in a positive way.”
Enforcing the “Clean-the-Plate” Rule
You might think forcing your child to finish what’s on his plate is teaching him not to waste food, but this can actually harm your child’s eating habits in his early years and beyond.
Children have the natural ability to self-regulate their food intake. This means
they are able to recognise when they are hungry and when they are full. If you push your child
to clean his plate every time, you’re teaching him to not trust this self-regulation.
This can negatively influence his eating habits by causing him to eat more than he needs to.
Follow the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. This means you decide what your child should eat, as well as when and where. Meanwhile, your child decides how much and whether he eats. This allows your child to trust his self-regulation instincts, enabling him to build a healthy relationship with food.
Assigning your child these responsibilities in his food intake also makes for more peaceful mealtimes, which is always good in any parent’s book!
Eating Anytime, Anywhere
“Mum, I’m hungry!” “Mum, I want a snack!” “Mum, can I have some juice?”
What’s your first instinct when your child says this to you? Do you automatically grant your child’s requests, or do you stand your ground?
Some parents make the mistake of not enforcing any structure to their child’s eating; their child eats at any time of the day, and at any place. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits because the child is learning to eat out of habit, instead of hunger. If the child sees a shop selling ice-cream, he’ll ask for it because he knows he can get what he wants, even if he’s not feeling hungry.
Sporadic eating habits can also cause your child to eat too much or too little
during mealtimes because he doesn’t know how to regulate himself.
Remember the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding? You decide when and where your child eats. Ensure your child eats his meals only at certain times of the day, and at designated places such as the dining table.
According to Maryann Jacobsen, registered dietitian and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, young toddlers generally eat around every two to three hours. Let’s say your child eats very little of his meal because he wants to quickly get back to playing. Let him know when his next mealtime will be to make sure he knows he needs to eat enough to last until then.