As a parent, your job as your children’s first feeder is important — one that has lasting impact on their lifelong eating habits and, as a result, also on their health.
Many parents are unprepared for this role, especially coming out of a stage when they didn’t need to do more than give their babies milk. It certainly gets a whole lot trickier as babies transition into toddlers who already derive the nutrients they require from a variety of foods.
Feeding Mistakes that Lead to Bad Eating Habits
These days, feeding your kids isn’t easy. Society puts a lot of emphasis on raising healthy kids, and yet it also provides very little support in letting you do it.
It’s understandable how parents can commit feeding mistakes, having to deal with judgment on your parenting on top of your toddler’s picky eating. The circumstances certainly make the difficult task even harder.
What are some of the common feeding mistakes you might be committing and what are their possible long-term repercussions?
1. You interfere too much with their eating.
In the bid to control your children’s food intake, you might be pressuring them to eat more or eat less than what they’re inclined to do. This is a mistake because children come with the natural ability to regulate their eating.
When you insist on controlling their food intake, you hinder self-regulation and teach them not to trust their body. Forcing them to eat more usually leads them to the habit of eating in the absence of hunger.
Besides pushing your children to eat more or to eat less, you also interfere with their eating when you use dessert as a bribe, give them rules about what they may or may not eat outside the house, and plate their food with instruction to clear it.
To deal with this, keep this tip in mind: You decide what, when, and where to feed your children, but you let them decide how much and whether to eat.
2. You have no feeding structure.
Do you give in every time your children demand food? Do you let them eat while watching TV, while in the car, or while playing with their toys?
This is the opposite extreme of the first mistake discussed. You’re basically letting your children call all the shots, creating a lack of rhythm and structure in their feeding.
Setting up a structure is different from interfering. Without structure, children learn to eat out of habit and not out of hunger. They’ll never feel hunger if they get food anytime they ask for it. This leads to improper food regulation and to responsiveness to eating cues from the environment and not from their bodies.
The best approach is to schedule meals and snacks at certain times and places. When your children ask for food, let them know when the next snack or meal time is.
3.You make alternative meals for picky eaters.
Do you behave like a short order cook, emotionally manipulated by children who would rather go hungry than eat what’s on the table?
You have to understand that children learn to eat different foods at different paces. Your children may be learning at a slower pace, but learn it, they will. If you offer an alternative every time they refuse what you prepared, then this lesson becomes derailed.
You need to expect more of their capacity to expand their eating repertoire. Get them used to serving themselves to increase their eating confidence.
When your younger kids stubbornly refuse exploring new foods, you can just cover nutrition gaps with other meals or a healthy snack. Don’t fret and offer to make them something else.
4.You harp on about eating their veggies.
Do you worry that your children are not getting any vegetables? If they don’t like veggies, it’s because most young children dislike the bitter compounds in them. This taste sensitivity decreases over time, so if you’ll just relax and wait, your children will probably eat them eventually.
If you keep on pushing veggies, however, the likelihood that your children become averse to them increases. Just keep on serving vegetables in a variety of enticing ways without pressuring your kids to eat them. Exposure will pique their curiosity.
If you’re worried about nutritional gaps, make sure you serve a variety of fruits and other healthy foods. Food supplements also help.
5.You lecture them on healthy eating too much.
Do you find yourself often verbally emphasizing the importance of good nutrition, perhaps with an accompanying rant against junk food? With young children, this doesn’t help much in conditioning them toward healthy eating. With older children, this could actually backfire.
If you talk too much about good food and bad food, your children may end up with rigid notions about eating, and a bad attitude toward it to boot.
The best way for you to educate and influence toward good eating habits is to consistently serve healthy foods and demonstrate following your own balanced diet.
The Hope of Correction
To avoid falling into unhealthy feeding practices, the essential thing is to appreciate the bigger picture of what’s involved in feeding.
You may have been committing mistake upon mistake when it comes to feeding your toddlers, but, take heart, because many of them can be remedied.
Armed with a helpful feeding guide, you can certainly turn things around.