6 common feeding mistakes parents make

How you approach eating may have an impact on the feeding patterns of your young children.

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You have spent hours preparing your son’s lunch. Well balanced, colourful, packed with nutrients and vitamins ― it’s a meal you are sure he will tuck into with gusto.

Then imagine your surprise and disappointment when he looks at it, turns his nose up and refuses to take a bite. Welcome to the real world of feeding toddlers. When this happened to stay-at-home mum Serene Lee, she made her 2-year old son Rayson a peanut butter sandwich ― this was pretty much all what he wanted to eat actually.

Serene says she has tried all sorts of ways to get her son to eat a varied diet. “I used bribery, tried to force-feed him and did the running-after-the-kid routine, hoping to get a few spoonfuls of food into his mouth. On hindsight, I think I was just making Rayson’s eating habits worse.”

Parents have a major role in shaping their children's approach to eating ― how they behave hugely influences what kids will or will not eat.

Her little boy is a picky eater. Dr Martha Liu, a paediatrician at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, explains that this is behaviour displayed by children who only eat a limited amount of food, have strong food preferences, restricted intake and/or are unwilling to try new foods.

Nutritionist Daniel Ker from The Nutrition Place, explains that many factors are linked to fussy eating. “It could be biological, for example young children are more sensitive to, and therefore have a greater dislike of, bitter-tasting food or they could suffer from neophobia, a fear of or aversion to new foods.

At the same time, the relationship between parent and child, as well as the parent’s expectations and personal perceptions in terms of the child’s food intake also play a part.”

It is clear that parents play a major role in shaping their children's approach to eating ― how they behave hugely influences what kids will or will not eat. To make mealtimes less of a battleground, we show you some of the common feeding missteps parents make and the strategies to adopt instead.

# 1. Not letting kids heed their own hunger and satiety cues  

Most parents try to control their children’s food intake, usually pressuring them to finish up all of their food on the plate, all of the time. This results in meal times being stressful and unpleasant experiences for both parties.
What to do instead: Ker says children have the ability to regulate their food intake to meet their own body requirements, by increasing or decreasing their intake at subsequent meals. This means parents do not have to force them to eat more or less at each sitting. Instead, let the children practise self-regulation ― whether and how much to eat while the adults decide on the what, when and where to feed.   

#2 Asking kids to leave the kitchen

The kitchen is usually seen as a dangerous place, what with the presence of sharp knives and scissors as well as boiling kettles and soup pots. It’s understandable why parents prefer their children to stay out of it.
What to do instead: Ker notes that it’s actually good to allow kids in the kitchen and to get them involved in food preparation, just make sure to follow safety and hygiene rules. He says, “Introducing healthy foods to the children in a fun and educational manner can help them to form positive associations with such foods, and they might be more willing to accept and even enjoy the healthy foods they have prepared themselves.”