It’s important for parents to realize that it’s perfectly normal for children to go through periods during which they’re fussy about what, when, and how much they eat. This behavior is pretty typical during the toddler years, but may also occur at various ages and stages throughout childhood. It’s also important for parents to understand that children usually don’t need as much food to get the nutrients they need and grow healthfully as we think they do, and that when they’re having a growth spurt, they’ll usually be more hungry and eat more than normally, and that in-between these growth spurts they’ll consume less. One way to know your children are growing at a healthy rate is to see how consistent they are in terms of weight and height according to pediatric growth charts at pediatrician checkups.
At mealtimes, it’s our job as parents to provide healthy foods—fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and low fat dairy sources—in appropriate portions at mealtimes. It’s also a good idea to Involve your child by giving him or her a few choices or having him or her help plan menus or meals so that he or she feels part of the process. But ultimately, it’s up to your child to decide what or how much he or she eats at mealtimes. Setting planned times for meals and snacks can also help your child avoid mindless grazing at random times throughout the day.
It’s particularly important for parents to not pressure children to eat, since this will likely lead to battles that make mealtimes unbearable. Forcing kids to eat, or talking about it or focusing too much on it at mealtimes can also further exacerbate the problem and set the stage for not only a less healthy relationship with food, but with parents as well.
As a mother of two boys—12 and 8—I try hard to empower my children by allowing them to have a say about what they eat—I often give them 2 or 3 different mix-and-match choices each night, to satisfy what they’re in the mood for and I give them small portions at meals. If they want more food, I give them more, and if they want less, I allow them to have less. I try not to focus on how much or how little they’re eating and try to respect that they may not each need the same amount of food. For example, both my sons are at a healthy body weight. But my younger son who has a smaller frame and is smaller in size than his older brother was at his age eats more than my older son. As long they aren’t drowning in sugary beverages or fatty, sugary snacks in between meals, I try to always trust that they know when they’re hungry and that they’ll eat enough at mealtimes to meet their needs to grow and develop optimally. Again, unless they’re falling off the growth charts, it’s likely they’re at least getting a reasonable amount of food to help them have energy and grow well.