Is how we parent teaching our children to disregard their natural body signals of when to eat and when to stop eating? Over time we see a distrust in listening to our bodies which are designed biologically to send signals to seek food and eat when hungry and then our body sends signals as we are approaching fullness to stop eating. If we ignore this message then we become uncomfortably full.
As parents it is hard to know when our children are genuinely full and when they are just sick of their vegetables. One strategy is to make sure that each meal has variety and that they start eating different pieces from their meal and when they feel they are full and there is still food on the plate, gently remind them that if they are full it is ok to stop, however they will not need to eat for another couple of hours after this meal if they have had enough. Encourage them to decide on their own (within reason and if age appropriate) as they may decide that they want some more or they may leave the rest.
As a parent it can be tough to be firm with this, but if we continue to then offer them another snack 20mins later it soon turns into a battle of the snacks, where the child will know if they don’t eat enough of their main meal they will always get another option to eat in only a short while. Now if you do choose to give them a snack perhaps choose one that is nourishing to the body and will help satisfy their hunger such as a banana, yoghurt or slice of cheese. Not something that they will just prefer the taste of and not get the nourishment their growing bodies need.
Another option is to help them learn that when it is meal time it is important to eat enough to feel full for a few hours. Small children do need regular meals as their tummy’s only hold a small amount of food at once and they are often very active, so eating every 2-3 hours might be needed. If you are finding that your child is looking for something 20 mins after a meal perhaps helping them learn that to feel satisfied for longer they need to eat more at meal times.
Think about how we are displaying this ability ourselves as adults. Are you confident to listen and trust your body signals around food and eating and can you listen and react in a non-judgemental way to what your body is needing on a day to day basis? You may start to notice that you too have varying amounts of food from meal to meal. Can you eat a meal and feel satisfied to get you through the next few hours or are you also reaching for a snack 20mins after a meal? Our children are little sponges and they mimic so much of what we do, so take a moment to reflect on your own eating behaviours. Perhaps there are things that you wish you would do differently around food and meal times.
Just remember that each child is different and we all parent differently so if you feel that you are struggling to get some routine around meal times you may benefit from speaking with a dietitian who can help set up some strategies to making meal times more enjoyable and help your child develop a strong trust of their body and how it naturally helps them to know how much to eat.