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Improving Your Child’s Eating Habits

Food Allergy Institute of North Texas Providers Allergists Board-Certified North Texas

Improving Your Child’s Eating Habits

Raising an allergic child can be challenging, but raising an allergic picky eater can be exhausting! Ensuring your child gets the nutrients they need without nagging and bribing is a tough job.
Jill Jacobsen a Registered Dietitian and Author offers support to parents in raising healthy eaters and overcoming common feeding mistakes. It is possible to influence behaviors despite your child’s age.

Common Mistake #1:
Controlling Your Child’s Eating
Ellyn Satter a Registered Dietitian and Author has a golden rule for parenting with food:
Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented. Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat.

Suggesting your child take “2 more bites” or “Eat their vegetables before they have dessert”, does not allow them to regulate their food intake, which in turn hinders self-regulation. Research shows that pressuring to eat results in decreased intake at mealtime and increased eating in the absence of hunger.
Allowing self-regulation makes mealtime more supportive, peaceful and allows children to accept foods at their own pace.

Common Mistake #2:
No Schedule
Eating out of habit, such as snacking in front of the television or in the car does not enable children to self-regulate based on hunger. Using environmental cues to eat and eating in a chaotic manner often results in lower consumption at mealtime or overeating.
Instead, structure meals and snacks so that a toddler eats every 2-3 hours, a preschooler every 3-4 hours, and an older child no longer than 4 hours. Also designate a place for eating like the kitchen table as often as possible.
When children want to leave the table after eating very little, remind them when the next meal or snack is. “Make sure you get enough to eat because we aren’t eating again until X. When they want to eat in between meals, remind them when they will be eating again.

Common Mistake #3:
Customized Cooking
Short order cooking or making alternate meals for the selective eater can be problematic over time.
Children learn to eat a variety of food at different paces; therefore exposing them to a variety of foods is encouraged. If parents can also engage the child in the process of selecting and preparing foods, the greater the chance the child will try the food.

Another strategy is to offer family style meals where children can create their own plates. This allows parents and other siblings to be good role models and will encourage self-regulation. Allow for one of two dishes per meal that you know your child will accept so that they aren’t leaving the table hungry.

Common Mistake #4:
Pushing Certain Foods and Feeding Patterns
Many children are averse to vegetables because of the bitter compounds in them. Instead of forcing children to eat them, try serving them in a different way. Raw vegetables with dips, creative salads, sauces, and smoothies are a few easy ways. Making up for a low vegetable intake with higher consumption of fruits will help meet nutrient needs.
Also, understand your child’s age and stage. Many toddlers refuse foods several times before they accept it. School-age children want to fit in with their peers so serve socially acceptable foods, and teens still need guidance when it comes to food and eating.
Parents are such important role models in the feeding relationship. Teaching your child to be comfortable with a variety of foods and their potential allergies can be challenging but achievable and worthwhile.