The amount of food that toddlers eat is a major concern for most parents. Most parents feel that their kids aren’t completely eating what they’re being given. Toddlers are still learning about the world around them and eating is one of those learning activities. Responding to the hunger instinct is essential for any child. Eating is the response to hunger instinct and how much one should eat is a matter that plays an important role in the years to come as well.
When given ample choice about how much of food to be eaten, a toddler might first find it difficult, at first to stick to a certain amount of food, but as weeks months and few years pass by, they’ll be able to identify their hunger cue well, with practice.
Toddlers Should Learn To Eat According To Their Hunger Cues
The hunger cue for all toddlers is not the same and as parents we shouldn’t think that it will be same. While some toddlers might rightly identify their hunger, others might not. This is very similar to the way developments take place in infants. While some infants start crawling by 6-7 months, others start by 8-9 months and some other infants don’t crawl but stand up right and walk. So, we cannot say that all babies behave in the similar manner. In the same way, each toddler reacts differently to new foods and he or she needs to adjust to the new foods and more importantly to notice one’s hunger and eat accordingly.
By forcing your child to eat more can disrupt this process and the child can develop the habit of overeating right from a very early age. This can turn into a problem as the rates of obesity are directly linked to the way children have their food. So, it is important for the parents to recognize the cues the child is exhibiting while having food. This can be segregated as the child is underfed, overfed or fed rightly.
- When they’re hungry: Infants and toddlers exhibit actions such as crying, opening the mouth, taking the spoon towards mouth or moving closer to the spoon, etc.
- When they’re full: When they are full, they exhibit actions such as eating very slowly, moving their head away from the food, closing their mouths, spitting out the food, playing with leftover food, etc.
These are few signals that toddlers and infants exhibit more often while having food.
Many a times, parents end up forcing the child to have more food, even when the baby is signalling that he or she is full. This is a bad practice because you’re over feeding your child and it must be avoided as much as possible. For adults, the cue is usually the food platter and we check whether or not the baby had completed the whole platter or the bowl. In such a case, it is better to feed your baby in small quantities. For example, if your baby cannot eat the whole bowl, then try serving with half of the bowl first and the next half broken down in small quantities. In this way, you can arrive at a rough estimate about your baby’s appetite.
- Negotiating with your child: Whenever a child throws away food that he or she doesn’t like, parents try to negotiate with the child by bribing him or her with treats. This is not considered to be a healthy habit because, it doesn’t inculcate any healthy habits but it creates an impression that the particular food is a punishment and the reward (a dessert or a candy) is better than the food. Do not negotiate with your child. Let your child have that particular food, at least in small quantities. Of course, you can encourage your kid to have more of the food, but do not force one.
- Have family meals at least once a day: Toddlers and children imitate and learn from their elders and everyone around them. So, make sure that you have a positive atmosphere at home. This applies to food as well. Make a seat for your child at the dinner table and have healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. This encourages children to have more and more healthy foods from the beginning and it reinforces a positive attitude about healthy food. This is perhaps, the starting point of inculcating good habits.
- Avoid feeding candy or chips: Avoid giving candy or chips or soft drinks to your baby as much as possible. These foods only contain ‘junk’ nutrients and do not provide anything healthy to your baby. These junk foods actually kill your child’s appetite. Apart from killing the appetite, they also add in unnecessary calories and salt to your child’s system, which is another risk factor.
- Avoid TV watching during feeding time: Some parents have a habit of letting the kids watch TV or YouTube or DVDs, etc while having food. Avoid this practice as much as you can. There is a positive relation with children watching TV or any visually engaging media are at a risk of gaining more weight.
With these measures in place, you can make sure that your child has healthy food from the beginning. It might be a little difficult in the beginning, but these methods can have good results in the future.
(Sources: Kids Health, University of Louisville,NC Medical Journal)