We’ve all done the 2-more-bites-tango.  But why?

Researchers conclude that getting young kids to eat more is an overriding priority of most parents (See Two More Bites.)  But why? There’s no evidence that American children are suffering from malnutrition.  On the contrary, as many as 10% of our infants and toddlers are overweight.

There is a disconnect between how much young children need to eat and how much we parents want them to eat.

One study designed to find out how mothers decide when to feed their babies and when their babies have eaten enough reported these surprising results:

  • While most mothers start out letting their infants decide when to start and stop eating, between 6 and 12 months, mothers become less likely to use their infant’s cues – crying, nuzzling, chewing on fingers, licking lips — to decide when to feed them.
  • By 12 months, ¾ of the mothers in the study did not report using specific infant feeding cues, even though children at this age are much better at communicating when they are hungry or full.
  • Instead, of using infant cues to decide when to start and stop feeding, mothers based their feeding decisions on things such as schedule or how much had been eaten.

If you aren’t following your children’s cues about eating, are you feeding them too much?

Researchers don’t yet know this answer to this question.  However, they do know that mothers who use food to soothe their children when they are fussy, but not hungry, are more likely to overfeed them.  They also know that children eat more than they need when they learn to eat “for their parents” instead of to satisfy their internal hunger and fullness cues.

3 Changes YOU can make today:

1) Figure out why you want your child to eat more and then address your own concerns.  If your primary concern is nutrition give your child a daily vitamin, improve her snacking, “healthify” dessert (with fruit, plain yogurt, cheese and crackers). If you don’t want your child to be hungry, reduce her snacking, teach her to eat at meals.  If you abhor waste, reduce the portions you provide.

2) Decide what you want your child to learn about eating and make sure that’s what you’re teaching her.  For instance, if you want your child to respond to her own internal cues when she’s older then you can’t teach her to ignore them when she’s young.  If you want your child to have a healthy relationship to dessert, don’t use it as a reward.

3) Trust your child.  This is a hard one!  But once your lessons are on track, you need to trust your child.  Only she knows how much she needs to eat. And if she doesn’t eat the way you would like, reevaluate the lessons your child needs to learn.

I would love to hear from you!

Did your parents make you eat two more bites and if so, did it have any lasting effects?

Do you have trouble teaching your child to eat vegetables without telling her how many bites to take?

Do you worry about about teaching your child to eat too much?

Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.

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Source:  Hodges, E. A., S. O. Hughes, J. Hopkinson, and J. O. Fisher. 2008. “Maternal Decisions About the Initiation and Termination of Infant Feeding.” Appetite 50: 333-39.