You probably already know that your feeding style has a powerful influence over how well your child eats. And, an authoritative feeding style is most effective at promoting self-regulated eating and a positive attitude and relationship with food in your child. So, how can you become more authoritative and less authoritarian, neglectful, or permissive in your feeding approach?
How can you change your feeding style for the better?
You may also wonder, “Can parents even change their feeding style?” Of course! You can always teach an old dog new tricks…that’s the beauty of evolution. And we, as parents, are all a masterpiece in the making…right?!
8 Ways to Change the Dynamic around Food and Feeding
Use the Division of Responsibility (DOR) when feeding your child.
Take on the job of deciding what foods you will serve (hopefully a nice balance of wholesome, healthy options!), where you will serve them (kitchen table, preferably), and when you will serve them. Let your child decide whether he will eat what you’ve provided, and how much he will eat.
Trust Your Child to eat the right amounts.
Ultimately, you want your child to self-regulate their eating. In other words, to figure out when they are hungry and when they are full. The amounts of food they eat should reflect their appetite. Trust is reciprocal; you want your child to trust food, and you, and therefore you must reciprocate that trust. It is natural for children to miss the mark on eating: overeating and under-eating is part of figuring out what works for your body. Help your child figure out what works for him in a trusting environment.
Ditch the Plate Method
Instead, opt for family-style meals. Serving meals family-style simply means placing food items on platters or in bowls. Passing food around the table, aka “Walton-style” allows your child to refuse food or take an amount that is right for him. Plating foods for your child takes control away from him, and makes you the regulator of what and how much is eaten. This may sabotage your child’s ability to learn self-regulation, a necessary tool for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Provide Don’t Deprive
Parents who take on a provider mentality take the job of feeding seriously. Just like the bread winner, the parent feeder is the bread “giver.” A serious provider will have well-planned meals, a kitchen that is adequately stocked with “growing foods” (foods that support healthy growth in your child), and will prioritize family mealtime. When you are timely with meals and snacks, your child will likely have a predictable hunger pattern. When you stock the kitchen with foods that contribute nutrition to your child’s diet, it’s easy to say “yes” when he is hungry and asks for food. Don’t make the mistake of being a “depriver;” research shows that restricting or controlling food intake is associated with overeating and weight gain in children. Confusing? Remember the adage, “you want what you cannot have”– the same holds true with children and food.
Preparation x 3
The key to success is preparation, preparation, preparation. Plan the menu, gather the food, and make it! But, don’t fall prey to being a short-order cook; set the menu and stick to it.
Quiet the Comments about Food and Eating Performance
Children don’t need to be pressured about eating or not eating…and the more you lay it on, the more self-conscious and bad your child feels, which may trigger overeating or not eating at all.
Choice, not Ultimatums
Remember the guideline for toddlers? Give 2 choices. Funny thing, it works for older kids too. “Would you like an apple with peanut butter, or crackers with peanut butter for your after-school snack?” Giving choices, but not too many, allows your child to make good decisions about food and feel in control of their body and their eating.
Keep the Pleasantries
What are meal times like in your home? Do your children argue, insult and put one another down, or throw temper tantrums at the meal table? Do you get frustrated, shout, punish, or give the silent treatment? Meal times should be pleasant, supportive, and engaging. Manners should be taught and used. Keeping a positive attitude and reasonable expectations around mealtime manners, conversation, and interactions among family members will go a long way toward creating a mealtime environment in which your child wants to be a part.
Just a little movement toward authoritative feeding can make a big difference in your child’s attitudes and actions about food and eating. Try one “trick” and let me know how it goes!