5 questions about your child’s eating habits

Healthy food

Parents often worry about their children’s development. Part of this includes their eating habits and preferences. To help ease your concerns and understand common developmental issues, here are five key questions that you should consider asking yourself about your child’s eating.

1) Is my child eating enough? 

As a parent your job is to make sure that your child is developing healthily and eating is a big part of that. It’s normal to worry that your child is not getting the food that he or she needs to grow. But kids are more than capable of knowing when they are hungry or not. Unless your doctor tells you that your child isn’t getting the nutrients that he or she needs, you should not worry about a lack of food intake.

2) Is my child an over-eater? 

Similarly, parents often worry that their child could be developing an unhealthy relationship with food that could lead to overweight and obesity. Since obesity for children is at a staggering 17% in America, this is understandable. Once again, unless your child’s pediatrician has expressed concern about your child’s weight, there is no need to worry. Children come in all shapes and sizes and vary in their appetites. You should trust children to be able to feed themselves. Especially if your child partakes in physical activity often, his or her appetite may be larger. This is completely normal. Remember that your kids are constantly growing and they need food to support their development.

3) How can I get my child to eat healthier food?

Young children need carbohydrates and fatty acids for their developing brain and body. However, if you are concerned that your child tends to reach for the chips instead of the carrots, you are not alone. Children, just like adults, have a sweet tooth, and it is normal for them to want desserts and chips instead of carrots. If you notice that your child’s diet consists mostly of processed foods, try and buy healthy snacks so that your child has fewer unhealthy options. But there is no need to fret over a dessert every now and then. All food is good food as long as it’s in moderation. You can also find helpful resources and information at Stanford Children’s Health Center for Healthy Weight.

4) Is it OK that my child does not want to taste new foods? 

Trying new foods is an important part of development. But try and remember how you felt about Brussel sprouts or fish as a child. Did they seem strange and unpleasant to you? This is exactly how some children feel too, and it’s completely normal. Your child’s tastes will develop as they grow. Today they might hate broccoli, but in a couple of months, it might be their favorite food. No one can predict what they will like in the future so it’s important to introduce them to a variety of foods often. If they refuse to try it, don’t push them to. Better yet, model an interest in new foods and openness to culinary experiences. Try not over-complicating the food and offering it at a time when your child is not tired and is reasonably hungry, but not too hungry. Remember that children may need the food to be introduced as many as six to fifteen times before they try it.

5) What if I as a parent have my own struggles with eating or my weight?

Adults in Western society are affected by unrealistic cultural expectations to maintain a certain body type. At times of stress, some people tend to regulate their emotions through restriction, over-eating, or additional unhealthy behaviors around food and exercise. Parents always ask themselves how their own concerns, habits, and challenges affect their interactions with their kids. If your eating preferences or the way you think about your body make you feel uncertain how to best help your child try new foods, eat healthfully, and consume food in appropriate amounts, know that you are not alone! Many parents share these concerns. There are many resources available from professional organizations and universities or reach out to your pediatrician and seek their advice. The general recommendation is to maintain a routine of three meals and two to three snacks every day, offer a wide variety of foods, allow room for flexibility and discovery, and have family meals at least a few evenings a week.

Parents care about their children and are dedicated to fostering their development of healthy eating habits. With these good intentions, you are already on the path to success!

If you are someone who feels that your own concerns about your eating affect your parenting or affect your child’s eating, psychologists at Stanford University may be a possible resource for you.

Researchers at Stanford University are now recruiting parents with histories of binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, or anorexia nervosa whose children are between 1-5 years old, to a new parenting program study.

Elena Lund is the Research Assistant to Shiri Sharvit Sadeh at the Parent Based Prevention Laboratory, Stanford University.

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