Meal Wars – Part 5: The Child Who Sneaks Food

This is the last of my 5 part series on feeding children. When in doubt, always remember the parent and child responsibilities. The parent plans the meal, prepares healthy options, and provides a positive environment. The child will choose whether or not to eat, what to eat (from the healthy options you provide), and how much to eat based on scheduled meals and snack times.

In this last series you will see a lot of overlap between this type of behavior and with “the child who overeats” (see previous blog Meal Wars – Part 3).

1. Stay calm and positive. Don’t scold, criticize, or shame your child.

2. Collect your thoughts. Review the parent and child responsibilities list above or in the previous blog posts.

3. Take a moment to reflect. How are you parenting your child with regard to food? Are you trying too hard? Controlling too much? Restricting food intake?

4. Connect with your child. When you are calm and feel centered, sit down with your child. Calmly state the situation, and ask open-ended questions to try to determine the roots of the behavior. Is the child feeling deprived? Hungry? Afraid? Out of control? Upset about missing certain foods? Is your child looking for comfort, nurturing, or acceptance?

5. Work with your child toward a solution. Maybe you need to reintroduce some favorite foods in moderate, reasonable amounts to diffuse the “stigma” on these foods. Maybe you need to let go and relax a bit to give your child a chance to reconnect with his or her own internal hunger cues.

Understand that these issues can’t just be fixed after one try. It takes continual practice to offer a safe, no-pressure environment. I’ll give you an example that I have seen over the years. During school lunch one day, I noticed that the lunch area did not have enough seating for students. They had a schedule for Kindergarten through third grade that was only 15 minutes apart. Therefore kindergarten students barely had enough time to eat before the next class came to sit. Teachers and lunch mothers were telling students that they were done eating and having them leave the area to go play. Needless to say, kids were too busy talking to each other and not eating by the time the teachers came around. There was a lot of wasted food that those 6 years needed. These young kids did not have a safe, “no-pressure” environment to eat their food. As a result, they are taught to ignore their hungry cues and eat quickly. Too bad…

To make a difference within your family, there are wonderful resources beyond what I have given you that might assist you in helping feed children. Ellyn Satter has a series of books and a website to get parents started. Some of her most popular books include, “Your child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming,” and “How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much.” As Ellyn Satter has said, “Feeding is going well if both you and your child are having a good time.” Be your child’s role model, they will thank you.

About Sharon M., MS RD

As a registered dietitian and a master gardener, I know the healing power of food. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than growing my own food. I have experience working in the public health field, including school districts. I have worked with pregnant moms, children, diabetics, and bariatric patients. I emphasis a plant-based, whole food diet. Yet, I appreciate the movement of eating sustainably, while hoping folks appreciate the bean as a source of protein. "To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld "Feeding is going well if both you and yor child are having a good time." -Ellyn Satter
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