By far the most common complaint among parents of young children is the child simply won’t eat. Rest assured children rarely starve themselves deliberately. Parents have expectations about how children should eat, which will never match the way they really eat. As parents it would be better to change our expectations about our children’s eating habits than to force them to eat what we think they should eat.

Children grow rapidly from birth to eighteen months. Their appetites are voracious and they seen excited about food. Then from about age one to seven, growth slows. Children need fewer calories and have less of an appetite. Parents worry their child isn’t eating enough and begin forcing food on them, not a good idea in today’s world of obesity.

Here are some common concerns parent’s voice about their young children’s eating habits-

-Food jags, where a child will only eat one food

-Dawdling over food, playing with the food but not eating it

-Eating a very limited variety of foods, no vegetables or meat

-Food rituals including tantrums if a food they do not like is served, or served on the wrong plate, bowl or cup

-Eating too much sugar and junk food

Some eating behaviors can be controlled or modified, others cannot. Do not introduce them to junk food. Later when they are introduced to it their desire for it will not be as profound. Other issues of tantrums over food should not be allowed to spoil everyone else’s meal, yet not given undue attention either.

A young child’s stomach is small, on the average a serving of food is one tablespoon per year of age. Keep in mind that young children are not able to eat enough in three meals to satisfy their nutrient and calorie needs, and may need to eat as often as seven times per day. If the child is very hungry by dinner, it’s usually because their dietary needs have not been met earlier in the day.

What is your responsibility as a parent? Simply to provide nutritious foods in appropriate amounts at three or four hour intervals and praise the child for what they have eaten. It is the child’s responsibility to determine how much and what of the foods provided he or she will eat. Meals and snacks should be served in a relaxed manner and when the child has finished, the food removed without comment about what is left over. This allows the child to be introduced to a wide variety of foods they may or may not eat. They do learn they may stop when the body signals enough, and will trust those body signals.

Parents will find they have little or no control over a teenager’s diet of junk food. Frustrating as this may be if the food served at home was low fat and healthy, as adults they are more likely to return to the use of a whole foods diet.

It may be wise during times of high junk food use to supplement their diet with a good multivitamin/ mineral. Someone else’s eating habits should not be controlled patience is the key. More than likely you’ve done your job and some day they will thank you for it. Till next time, Rebecca.