Hands up, who follows / followed The Wonder Weeks! I absolutely loved having this resource to help me decode Lexi’s behavioural changes and navigate our way through difficult changes in her cognitive development. I have long said that while The Wonder Weeks only navigates ten leaps, children continue to develop and experience these leaps.
One of the biggest indicators that Lexi was / is going through a developmental leap is when her eating habits change. I have often seen how she (and other children I am close to) feel that what they eat is a way for them to gain some kind of control. It is an area where they can assert themselves.
Food is often a power struggle between parent and child. The result? Unhappy meal times, when they should be a happy time. While manners should still be enforced, food rules need to be broken. Children should be given choices about what they eat.
I am not suggesting that we give in to our children and allow them to eat junk for every meal. Instead we can offer them healthy choices and let them make their own decisions. It’s all about subtly influencing their food choices.
In an extensive review paper in 2004 (published in the International Journal of Obesity), Benton assesses the role of parents in the determination of the food preferences in their children.
The emotional climate of a meal has a big impact – when the climate is negative, children eat less and less variety, while in a positive atmostphere children eat more and more variety. Parental control over food (type and amount) results in children being unable to regulate their food intake and often over-eating.
More recent studies back up these findings. In a review of 81 studies, Berge (2009) found that maternal pressure and restriction in feeding their children was associated with an increase in childhood weight gain, and a decrease in healthy dietary intake.
Signs Your Child Is Going Through a Leap
With Lexi I can always tell she is going through a leap when she suddenly stops eating foods that she usually loves. She gets annoyed at meal times if I don’t let her dish up her own food and she will eat far fewer foods.
How You Can Help Your Child Through This Stage
When Lexi is going through a picky stage I make sure I have a variety of healthy snack options available. I have a small basket in the pantry and a bowl in the fridge with healthy snacks for she can choose from throughout the day.
When I am doing my meal planning for the week I allow Lexi to choose two dinners. She is then responsible for helping me to prepare those meals. At dinner time she dishes up her own food and I am always surprised by what she puts on her plate. I often have to stop myself from commenting or making suggestions. Since I have done this she has eaten more at each meal and chosen more variety.
I tend to make "deconstructed" meals. An all-in-one dish is the worst thing to put in front of a child trying to exert control. They will simply refuse the whole thing. Instead have everything separate and let them decide what they want. Lexi’s favourite is a salad platter that she can pick and choose from.
Most Importantly…. (In My Opinion)
DO NOT use food as a reward or to soothe. For example, if you eat your dinner you can have dessert. This creates a preference for the reward food which is usually something unhealthy and decreases preference for the healthier food.
How do you handle your children’s picky eating?
Benton (2004) Role of parents in the determination of food preferences of children and the development of obesity.http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038%2Fsj.ijo.0802532
Berge (2010) A Review of Familial Correlates of Child and Adolescent Obesity: What has the 21st Century Taught us so Far? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2890027/
Jansen et al. (2012) Children’s eating behavior, feeding practices of parents and weight problems in early childhood: results from the population-based Generation R Study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543222/
Rodgers et al. (2013) Maternal feeding practices predict weight gain and obesogenic eating behaviors in young children: a prospective studyhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3582584/
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