It’s not always easy to know exactly how much your child should be eating at any given time.
You might have noticed that on some days your baby or toddler seems to eat more than usual.
So how can you tell when your baby has had enough to eat?
Should Your Child Finish All Their Food?
In a new study, from University College London, researchers found that as little as one extra spoonful of food at each meal could put your child at increased risk of obesity in later life.
It might not sound like much, but over a month this can amount to an extra two days’ worth of food.
Children Who Are Less Aware Of ‘Feeling Full' Are More Likely To Overeat
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused on children’s responsiveness to food cues. They looked at how sensitive children are to external food cues (e.g. seeing food), and how aware they are of internal cues (e.g. feelings of fullness). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that children who were less aware of feeling full were more likely to overeat.
Researchers analysed food diaries, kept by over 2,500 parents of children aged between four and eighteen months. Despite what you might expect, the researchers didn’t find unhealthy foods or excess snacking were to blame. In fact, they found that the heavier children were eating the same foods as their leaner counterparts. The problem was they were eating more of them.
Researchers found that just 24 extra calories in each meal could increase a child’s risk of being overweight by as much as 9%.
Researchers have concluded that parents need clearer guidelines to educate them about how much their children should eat. Hayley Syrad, one of the study’s lead authors, explains: “Currently there is little guidance for parents of young children on recommended eating frequency, and portion sizes, and our research suggests that some parents may need more tailored advice and information if their child is at risk of overeating”.
What You Can Do About It
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Renee Kam explains: “While research clearly shows that not breastfeeding is associated with excess weight gain in infancy, it’s what happens later that is less clear. Nonetheless, there is some research to indicate that not breastfeeding is also associated with an increased risk of overweight and obesity later in life. If a baby is not breastfed, it doesn’t guarantee he will end up overweight or obese, but it might be one factor associated with increased risk. Likewise, breastfeeding is not magic; it is just one possible factor amongst many others that might influence one’s weight”.
If you want to encourage your child to listen to his body’s natural cues, a child-led approach to family mealtimes might be the answer. This approach is based on trust. You must trust your child’s body to tell him when he’s eaten enough, or when he feels hungry. You must also trust your child to interpret these cues. By trusting your child, you can take the stress out of mealtimes.
Avoid Bribing Your Child To Eat Food
Many parents try to bribe their children to eat more, or to eat different foods. “Three more forkfuls,” and “If you eat x then you can have y,” are tactics commonly used at the dinner table. But this approach has risks. By encouraging your child to eat when he says he’s not hungry, you risk overriding his natural instincts about food. You also risk teaching him not to trust those important cues. If food cues are ignored, overeating could become normal for your child.
Opt For A Child-Led Approach
You can use a child-led approach as soon as your baby is old enough to try solid foods. Rather than opting for spoon-fed purees, where it is all too easy to take charge of how much your baby eats, opt instead for baby led weaning (BLW). By providing your baby with a selection of healthy finger foods, you allow him to take control of how much he eats.
Avoid Using Food As A Treat
New research from three universities in the United Kingdom found children who receieve food as treats may learn to rely on food to regulate their emotions. Find out more in our article here.
Remember, on some days your child will eat more than on others. It can be confusing, but try not to let it stress you. Continue to provide your child with a healthy, balanced diet, and allow him to take charge of just how much he eats.