Eating to have a belly that’s just full enough, keeping room in your tummy to enjoy dessert… These principles based on intuitive eating, also known as conscious eating, will encourage your toddlers to develop a healthy relationship with food. Here are three tips to introduce at an early age to encourage them to eat according to their appetite.
Establish a routine
To help your budding chefs better identify their hunger and satiety signals, try to introduce a routine for meal and snack times. This will help your child learn to recognize when food is being served. For example, he will feel reassured if he is less hungry and eats little at lunchtime because he will know that a snack will be served in the afternoon. Indeed, the fear of being hungry, not knowing when else he will eat, can cause a toddler to eat more than his actual appetite during mealtimes. A toddler should be offered three meals and three snacks a day! The third snack may well be offered before bedtime. You can also ask your child if he or she is thirsty, as sometimes he or she may confuse feeling hungry with thirst. But before bedtime, perhaps a glass of milk or water will do the trick.
Forget about empty plates
You should avoid telling your child things like “Finish your plate or you won’t get dessert!” When a child is forced to empty his plate, he may be forced to eat beyond his actual appetite. Moreover, eating becomes a negative experience, because chances are that after eating too much, your little angel will have a stomach ache or suffer from nausea… So simply suggest that your child try the food on his plate, without forcing him. It’s quite possible that he’ll defy you and try to get another food he wants, but it’s just as likely that he’s just not hungry. Even as adults, we too may not be hungry at mealtime, or we may find our appetite “cut off” at the sight of food we don’t want to eat. And if your sweetheart doesn’t finish his plate, remember that he will have his snack later. Don’t worry, he won’t let himself starve to death…
Just like adults, it is normal for a child to prefer some foods more than others. If your little darling prefers to eat less Brussels sprouts to make room for yogurt after the meal, that’s fine! Yogurt is still a nutritious food and is just as interesting as Brussels sprouts… And if the dessert turns out to be a brownie, how should you react? Well, your child also has the right to want to keep a little empty corner in his stomach for a piece of brownie. That said, this kind of less nutritious food is best served occasionally, and not every day! It’s all about balance. Avoid forbidding your little cook from eating treats, and instead teach your child to recognize his appetite level and current food preferences.
Geneviève has been collaborating with Mother Hen for almost 7 years. As a mom, breastfeeding enthusiast and nutritionist, her greatest desire is to pass on her love of delicious meals and fun-filled times around the dinner table.