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By Justine Roth, MS, RD, CDNPhoto Credit: Dave Malkoff via Compfight cc
Children require guidance in all areas of their lives— how to tie their shoes, when to speak in a quiet voice, and, of course, when, what and how to eat. As a parent, I know it is my job to think carefully about the messages I send to my child regarding food to start her on the path towards healthy self-regulation. But even as a dietitian who counsels others on developing a balanced relationship with food, I struggle to navigate this with my toddler.
My daughter loves food. Meal times are not stressful, and in fact are usually very enjoyable. She usually finishes everything I give her (and that she often picks out) without an issue. If she doesn’t finish a meal, I just assume she wasn’t that hungry to start. But, it is a different story when we are around others. She often asks for food just because she sees friends or family eating it and, unlike most kids who do this but lose interest in the food once they get it, she will usually finish whatever she is given. Sometimes this results in her not feeling well. This is where it gets tricky. Do I give her food every time she asks, so as not to “restrict her,” or do I try to limit excess snacks and food outside of meal times to help her learn to identify her hunger and fullness cues?
Some parents may think I am too strict with my daughter. The parent of a picky eater, for example, is likely to have different struggles than me – and to arrive at different solutions. Parenting is hard enough without us judging one another. Instead, perhaps we can learn from one another. Because although young, our children are certainly capable of starting to learn about their body and to establish healthy habits, and we must lead the way.