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How to Raise a Healthy and Happy Eater: Follow a Division of Responsibility in Feeding (page 3)

By — Obesity Prevention Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Solving common feeding problems:

  • My child refuses to eat anything green or new – Follow a division of responsibility in feeding. You provide the food, eat the food at mealtime with your child, offer the food to the child, and accept her decision to try it or not. Trust that she will learn to like it one day. Support these decisions by allowing eating only at scheduled meal and snack times. Here is how to develop trust so that your child can become willing to taste new foods: Allow her to taste without swallowing; teach her how to politely spit out the food if she doesn’t like it; and if she eats one bite, don’t try to get a second bite into her or praise her. Stay neutral. Have patience.
  • My 3 year old won’t eat unless I feed her or sneak food into her while she’s preoccupied by television: You have taken over your child’s responsibility to determine how much and whether to eat. These techniques do not teach your child to be a competent eater and interfere with her ability to self-regulate her intake. If you do your job of offering the food at scheduled meal and snack times, offering her the same foods as the rest of the family and letting your child take responsibility over how much or whether to eat, she will gradually learn to eat the amount she needs and a greater variety. If your child refuses to eat at mealtimes, don’t let her panhandle later. She needs to learn that eating occurs at the table, during scheduled meals and snacks. Never feed a child with the television on. It’s hard to let this learning occur, as she may indeed eat very little as she tests you to see if you will be consistent with your new rules. Change can also cause tantrums or fights as she struggles to eat on her terms and push you to capitulate. Your child’s growth chart will tell you how she is doing. As long as her growth is fairly consistent along her appropriate growth percentile then you probably don’t need to worry.
  • If I don’t limit the amount of food my 4 year old child eats, he has no stopping point and will gain too much weight: Studies suggest6 that food restriction increases a child’s weight (and thus his BMI) and eating in the absence of hunger. Food restricted children do not trust that they will get enough to eat. Food restricted children become preoccupied with eating, and will overeat whenever possible. You need to follow a division of responsibility. Key to establishing normal eating in your child is that you provide consistent structure around the what, when and where of eating. Limit eating to scheduled family mealtimes and snacks, never in front of the tv, and no eating in between times. However, when your child sits down to eat at a meal or scheduled snack, he is responsible for how much he eats. Parents may try to get around this by allowing him seconds on only low Calorie foods. That is restriction, and he knows it. He may overeat for 4 to 8 weeks until he no longer feels that he will be restricted, then he will be able to calm down in the presence of food.
  • Where can I get more information: Go to www.ellynsatter.com. Satter has written a number of books that can help you raise your child to be a healthy and happy eater. Her website contains many useful resources.
  1. Gesell A, Ilg FL. Feeding Behavior of Infants. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1937.
  2. Carruth, Zeigler et al, JADA 2004 Supplement
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, American Medical Association 2007 Expert Committee Report on the Assessment, Prevention and Intervention of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity
  4. www.ellynsatter.com
  5. Fisher, Mitchell et al. JADA 2002
  6. Rhee, K. Childhood Overweight and the Relationship between Parent Behaviors, Parenting Style, and Family Functioning. Annals Am Academy of Political and Social Sci 2008; 615;11

Carol Danaher, MPH, RD
Carol Danaher directs a child obesity prevention collaborative in San Jose, CA

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