You Provide, They Decide


The very highly debatable topic of childhood obesity continues….. So where does the responsibility lay?  

Children are very good at identifying their bodies own needs. They eat as much as they need, they grow in a way that is right for them and along with lots of other behaviors, and they learn to eat the foods their family eats. They mimic others behaviors. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a 5 year old who has learnt to swear from listening to family members!

As parents, our job is to ensure nutritious food options are available, we normalise everyday eating, we role model variety and positive eating experiences and it’s the children’s choice to choose when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat. Let’s explore this a little more from the dietitians view……..

What: Do you role model healthy eating by eating the same foods as all family members or do you prepare “special meals” for fussy eaters? What kind of a message is this sending? It’s ok for you to eat it but not me? One of the biggest challenges is getting kids to expand their repertoire of foods they eat. Often it can take 10-15 times of being exposed to it before kids realise they actually do like it. Have you actually just made an assumption he/she doesn’t like it because they didn’t eat it that one time 4 years ago or do you puree all their vegies into the meals and “hide” them so they don’t actually know what they are eating?

When: Our bodies get very used to eating similar foods at similar times throughout the day. Try to serve food at meal and snack times and limit the constant grazing all day.

Where: Have you given any thought to where meal times are throughout the day for your family members? Is this environment conducive to eating mindfully? Ie Eating in the car on the way to school vs eating at the dining table? How can you make this a fun experience? I would encourage you to get creative with this where you can. For example we love setting up a picnic blanket outside in Summer of an evening and having our dinner outside. Meal times should be surrounded with minimal distraction and be a time where your family connects. Unfortunately in the overscheduling world we live in, we now eat more on the run than ever.

How much: If your child is meeting milestones, happy, sleeping well and has energy to run around and is well, chances are they are getting everything they need (assuming you are providing the healthy and nutritious options to them). Don’t stress if they only have a few mouthfuls one day and demolish and entire fridge contents the next, as humans, we don’t eat the exact same amount of food every day and it is very much dependent on so many other things. Trust that your child knows how to regulate and listen to their own appetite. Have you ever tried to force feed a breastfed baby? Once they refuse they refuse, so why try to force feed someone else who knows their own fullness cues? These instincts are there from a very very early age. TRUST THEM.

All this I’m sure makes sense, but what happens when you bring into the mix the complexities of ages and stages….. For example, what happens when we are faced with the challenges that come with teenagers, increasing independence, part time jobs, more time away from home? It’s easy to point the finger but much harder in society to create change.

Whilst there is continuous activity in this area involving government, schools, primary health care, food and drink manufacturing companies and exercise specialists, maybe it’s time we just started looking within our own 4 walls? 

“When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating” (Ellyn Satter)