This article was original published through WellSeek.
One of the most important components in raising children may very well be the nurturing of their lives: physically, emotionally, and mentally. Providing nutritious foods is a tangible way of meeting a basic need. Yet with the overload of information that parents encounter on a daily basis, even this responsibility can become convoluted.
Shepherding a child in a culture of overwhelming choices can take the simplicity and joy out of something that should be pleasurable and enjoyable, such as family meals. Many parents find themselves dealing with mealtime “battles”, frantically worrying that their child is not receiving adequate nutrition or devising schemes to somehow fit in missing components.
As parents, we want nothing but the best for our child, and monitoring their nutrition intake or even playing “food police” seems like a natural way of ensuring that they are putting optimal foods in their bodies.
But when push comes to shove, is it really necessary to make sure your child is hitting every food group at each meal? How can you trust that your child is in fact receiving adequate nutrition when they seem to have hardly touched their plate? What about the child that only seems to gravitate toward dessert type foods and turns their nose up at vegetables?
While these are legitimate concerns, here are a few reminders to help you stay level-headed during those moments of conflict:
Don't doubt yourself
In our society today, we are constantly bombarded with culturally based messages when it comes to nutrition, parenting, and the health of our children. This can influence feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty in everything we do – from what we choose to feed our little ones to how we discipline and everything in between. In the midst of our deepest insecurities and questions about how we feed our children lies a basic truth:
Your child has the keen ability to intuitively eat according to what their bodies might need.
Absolute rules do not exist
Raising an optimally nourished child involves far less guesswork and much more empowering. Allowing your child to eat according to their natural hunger and fullness cues is an effective aspect of nurturing a healthy relationship with food and body from an early age. Optimizing nutrition for children involves the consistent provision of enjoyable and wholesome meals rather than hyper focusing on rules, restrictions, or regulations at meal times. We have the inherent responsibility of determining what, where and when to feed our children and can leave the feeding aspect entirely up to the child.
Trust in their natural instincts
As undefined as this may seem, a child should be enabled to decide how much to eat and whether or not they would like to try any of the foods that are being offered at meals and snack times. In the absence of trying to regulate or force a child to eat a certain amount or consume particular foods, a child can innately and effectively regulate exactly what their body needs for optimum nutrition intake. Allowing your child to autonomously develop their feeding abilities and tune in to their own bodies can help take the guesswork, confusion, and frustrations that are often experienced during meal times.
Stay aware and adjust when needed
The truth is, there are no rigid guidelines for how or what your child should eat. Focusing more on consistently providing a variety of foods alongside familiar foods can give your child the opportunity needed to support normal and healthy growth throughout their childhood years. You will likely observe variances in how your child eats, and that is perfectly acceptable and normal. Some nights, you may find your child ravenous – eating everything on their plate and asking for more. At other meal times, you may find your child eating minimally or avoiding something altogether. And that is okay too.
While we tend to interfere out of the best intentions for our children, building an appropriate feeding relationship begins by trusting in your child’s ability to eat. Refraining from the impulse to troubleshoot how and what our children eat can take unnecessary pressure off of both parents and children, cultivating a healthy and respectful relationship with food and body for years to come. And remember –
“Raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.”
– Bruno Bettelheim