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Melissa Little

Pediatric and Antenatal Dietician. She is a spokesperson for the British Dietetics Association on TV and in print. Member of the parliamentary group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood at Westminster for the UK Government.
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Child / Child Nutrition

Ten tips on responsive feeding and reducing obesity in children

There are all sorts of ways you can help your child feel healthily full, and to encourage him to learn when to stop eating.
In Short

Our 10 top tips:

Try and eat together.

Be a positive role model around food to your child.

Avoid distractions around mealtimes.

Let your child lead on pace.

Follow your child’s hunger and fullness signals.

Decide what to offer your child to eat.

Let your child decide how much he eats and whether he eats it or not.

Offer a variety of healthy tastes and textures. 

Never force your child to finish a bottle or food.

Remember to remain calm during 'discussions' about food.

Controlling our appetites

Infants are born with the ability to self-regulate their feeding. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. However, sometime between infancy and adulthood most of us lose this ability and start to eat for reasons other than hunger (guilt, boredom, external cues) and don’t necessarily stop when we are full. In order, to maintain this internal ability to self-regulate our feeding we must listen to our internal hunger and fullness signals. In children, this means feeding responsively, a practice gaining more and more support in terms of health and obesity prevention.

What is responsive feeding?

According to UNICEF, responsive feeding – also called active feeding – means to feed infants directly and assist older children when they feed themselves, being sensitive to their hunger and satiety cues. In practice, this means being patient and allowing children to eat or feed slowly, and encouraging children to eat their food without ever forcing them to do so. As children and infants often refuse food the first time it is presented, new foods should be offered several times; experimenting with different food combinations, tastes, textures and methods of encouragement. Bribing children to eat is not a good long-term solution when it comes to food refusal. Distractions should be minimised during meals, as interest can easily be lost. UNICEF also emphasises that feeding times are opportunities for learning and love and recommend that feeding provides an ideal opportunity for socialisation.

It is natural for a parent and caregiver to become very anxious when their child refuses food, which in turn can lead to unresponsive feeding practices as they try to either avoid food wastage, get their child to eat more food or to get their child to eat new foods. Babies and young children should routinely be offered frequent small, nutrient rich, appropriately sized meals/snacks throughout the day and trust that children will take the ‘right’ number of calories from foods. Each child shows their own particular hunger and fullness signals and the more caregivers pay attention to their children’s cues the more they will be able to respond actively and responsively to them. Responsive feeding encourages parents to be attuned to their children at mealtimes and help babies preserve appetite self-regulation, thereby encouraging healthy levels of growth.

Ten tips to encourage responsive eating during mealtimes

1. Create positive mealtime interaction – face your child and ensure eye contact when feeding babies. With older children, sit together to eat.

2. Use positive role modelling such as trying new foods with your child and eating meals as a family.

3. Avoid distractions whilst eating – create a calm mealtime environment.

4. Let the child lead on pace.

5. Follow the child’s hunger and fullness signals.

6. Decide what to offer – you should provide a variety of nutritious foods.

7. Let your child decide how much he eats and whether he eats it or not.

8. Offer a variety of tastes and textures – including finger foods during weaning.

9. Never force your child to finish a bottle or the food on his plate, follow his signs of fullness. Take uneaten food away without comment.

10. Remember to remain calm – if you seem stressed your child will feel stressed as well.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.