By Sarah Smith from Bayside Dietetics
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I have lots of worries. How many nights in a row can we get away with having chicken? Is Simon the best Wiggle?
Make it a worry about my kids and it’s really important to me. So when parents come and see me and ask “Is my child eating enough?” I get it.
There are two key things I’d want a parent to walk away knowing.
- If your child is growing okay then they are getting enough to eat.
- And if your child is growing okay, then the child can be trusted to trust their own appetite.
(Side note: If a child is not growing okay, we go down a different route. If this is your case, go and see your GP or paediatric dietitian.)
Let’s do an analogy with blocks (yep, my kids are still young).
Little Charlie is awake and looking for action. Dad says today we will play blocks. “Now Charlie, put this block here. Then this block here. That’s right. I can see you’re getting a little bored of blocks Charlie, but I don’t think you’ve played with them for long enough. This block goes under there…”
Poor Charlie. He is sick of playing blocks. He showed Dad through body language. He even tried telling Dad. But Dad wanted him to stay until they’d used every block.
Charlie now realises he doesn’t know how to play with blocks. He hates blocks. He will not choose for himself to play with them.
I’m exaggerating to make a point. Let’s transfer the analogy to food.
A parent has a really important role in choosing what to feed their child. But if a parent goes beyond that role to tell a child how much food to eat, the child will lose confidence in their ability to do it themselves. They will wait for a parent to prompt them to take a mouthful, or to prompt them when to stop. This can lead to undereating or overeating.
(If you feel you are in this territory already, perhaps consider a professional to support you in what to do next. Talk to your paediatric dietitian or GP.)
So how can you best approach a meal when you fear your child isn’t eating enough? Recent studies suggest that a parent will get the best results by:
- Staying in charge of what food to provide; and
- Allowing their child to use their appetite to guide how much of the food to eat.
A child’s appetite will vary day to day and respond to changes in growth and activity. There is no need to worry about a day or two of poor intake in isolation. Getting a true picture of what a child eats needs to be taken over at least a few weeks.
If you have read this far, you are probably worried about your child’s intake. Take a moment to reflect on their intake over the entire last 2 weeks. Did they have days they ate less than others? Did they seem to have “catch up” eating days? Looking at a longer period, do you have the same concerns?
So far, I’ve skipped over what foods to offer a child that doesn’t seem to eat enough. That’s important too. So I’ll blog about high energy food choices next month.
In the meantime, perhaps consider this… “Your child’s appetite works really well. You can trust it.”
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