How Much Should My Child Eat?
As parents we all go through periods where we worry about how much our kids are eating. This is especially true when dealing with a child who is underweight or seems to have a small appetite. It is also true when dealing with a child who is overweight and sneaking food. Yet even when we are dealing with a child who has a perfectly healthy weight, parents will often still wonder if their child is eating enough or too much and how this will affect their future growth and eating habits.
While it is not our job as parents to determine how much our kids eat, there are ways in which we can support them in their eating.
Planned meals and snacks
Planning scheduled meals and healthy snacks is one of our feeding responsibilities. Your child should be allowed to eat as much as they want at each sit down meal or snack and will be better able to regulate their amounts compared to being allowed to graze throughout the day. Snacks do not need to be what we tend to think of as “snack foods.” Think of them more like small meals and ensure the same balance that you would at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We should be offering our kids 4-5 opportunities to eat throughout the day so that would mean 1-2 snacks.
Proper spacing between meals
Use snacks to support mealtime and space them out appropriately to ensure your child comes to the table hungry, but not too hungry. If you wait too long, your child may become cranky and more likely to have a meltdown at the table. Some children may overeat in this situation. If your meals and snacks are too close together, your child will be more likely to reject what is offered at the table or eat only a small amount. This often results in parental pressure to eat in the form of negotiations and bribery. Your child may legitimately not be hungry and teaching them to ignore their internal huger cues can lead to trouble down the road.
Even though at times they may eat more or less than they need, they will usually make up for this by making the necessary adjustments at other meals
Avoid trying to control the quantity of food your child consumes. It typically involves the use of pressure tactics in one form or another. Your child is the only one who know how much their body needs. Even though at times they may eat more or less than they need, they will usually make up for this by making the necessary adjustments at other meals. Young children are very good at self-regulating if we let them.
As parents, our role is not to determine the appropriate quantity for our children to eat. Our role is to provide healthy and balanced meals and snacks in a positive mealtime environment. We provide them with structure but then we need to take a step back and let them do their job.