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With so many family mealtimes being fraught with negotiation and bribery, having an enthusiastic eater is many parent’s idea of a dream come true.
Some little ones are enthusiastic about food from the word go and whilst this is preferable to a non-eater, there are dangers to be aware of when your child doesn’t appear to have an 'off' switch.
Usually toddlers and children will self-regulate how much they eat, but if you’re noticing regular excess consumption from your child, you need to know how much is enough for their growing body.
"My son never wants to stop eating!"
Mum of four, Annabelle Bowen*, noticed early on that she had a very enthusiastic feeder on her hands.
“I had an 18-month-old that seemed like he had no 'off' button so I did an experiment to see how much he wanted to eat. He did have an 'off' button but only after 18 Weet-Bix!” she tells.
“He was a healthy-sized, chubby baby, but I was always obese as a child so I was determined and mindful of not having fat children.”
Most happy feeders are blatant about their love of food, however some children begin sneaky behaviour so as to hide their habits.
When Charlotte Kramer’s* daughter, Abigail*, was about three she began clandestine actions towards food.
“I discovered she was smuggling food in her bag to go to daycare. Then the teachers would advise us that she would eat three or four portions of school provided food when the other kids were lucky to eat one,” tells Charlotte.
Knowing how much is 'enough'
As we are programmed to provide for our children, the conundrum for a parent is when their child continuously complains of hunger when you feel that they should have had enough.
“We try to give her a big glass of water so she feels full as she says she is always hungry,” explains Charlotte.
“Then if after she has eaten and says she is still hungry we give her another glass of water and offer her more vegetables and the like and miraculously she is not hungry anymore.”
Trust your judgement
Paediatric dietician from The Food Expert, Hanan Saleh, says that there are a lot of factors to consider when you are deciding how much food is enough for your children.
“As responsible adults parents should know exactly how much a toddler needs to eat. If an appropriate portion of food is provided and your toddler consumes that food you should feel quite comfortable in knowing whether they're hunger or not."
Hanan suggests that if your child is still claiming to be hungry despite having a healthy amount of food then perhaps other factors are at play.
"Is it that they are bored? Do they really look hungry? Did they not eat well earlier that day?” Hanan asks.
Is my child's eating making them overweight?
Growth charts – also known as percentile charts – are a good guide to keep an eye on where your child’s weight sits comparative to their height.
“If you plot your child and there is a difference of two percentiles when you are compating their weight and height, then there is a problem,” says Hanan.
If there is an imbalance with your child’s height and weight managing it is much the same as with an adult – energy in versus energy out.
How to address the problem
“Maybe it’s something you bring up with your doctor or see a dietician about, or help your child to reel back their eating yourself. Work out if the portions you're serving are too much and try offering fruit rather than extra serves of carbohydrates.” says Hanan.
Eating habits are formed for many different reasons according to Doctor Sasha Lynn, a clinical phychologist at From The Left Field’s
“Food gives us many things; energy, mood stability, it can release our happy juices and impact on our neurochemicals, it can make us feel good. It can make us feel sick sometimes. We all have our own ideas and beliefs around food, and so do our kids,” she explains.
If you have questions about your child’s eating habits or adequate portion sizes speak to your doctor, early childhood nurse, or a paediatric dietician for more information.
*These people are known to Mother&Baby however they have elected to change their names for their own anonymity.