How to Help Your Little One Feel Full

This is my second post in a three-part series about introducing solids to your little one.  To learn more and to sign up for an upcoming class on introducing solids to your little one click here. In my previous post  I addressed a parent’s responsibilities for the “when” (setting meal time) and the “what” (the food to be served).  This approach is generally referred to as the “feeding relationship.” [1]  The relationship is between parent and child, and between the child and the food they eat.  Now that we’ve established the parent’s responsibilities, we can move to the child’s responsibilities – whether to eat, and how much to eat.

By controlling the WHAT, parents introduce foods, and should be actively monitoring how children respond. Getting started is fairly simple: you offer the food, and your child decides how much and WHETHER they want to eat it.  Yep, that’s it.

However, this will surely bring a challenge (and for some, the harder obstacle to overcome) to be okay with how much and whether your child accepts the food.

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When introducing solids to your little ones, starting small is essential to help him learn to physically accept solid food and learn to taste, chew, and swallow effectively.  Offer a small amount of a pureed food to your little one.  If the child opens their mouth toward the spoon, help guide the food into their mouth.  If the child turns away from the spoon, trust their instincts they do not want that food or simply are not ready.   If you choose to use the baby led weaning approach, start by placing food in front of your child on their high chair tray or the table. Trust that your baby knows what they need.  And keep in mind, especially when starting out, breast milk or formula will make up the majority of your little one’s calories and nutrition until they are close to a year old.  Your job is to help them learn how to eat.  You are letting them know they can choose how much and whether they would like to eat.

When you move beyond purees and toward more complex foods, offered more frequently, this approach can, and often will, get more challenging.   As your child gets older and enters toddlerhood, less of their nutrition may come from breast milk or formula.  However, this is when it is more important than ever to keep in mind your child’s ability to self regulate.  As you offer more food at a given meal, you’ll be looking for signs that baby feels hungry.  That feeling (rather than a specific amount of food) helps your child to learn appropriate eating habits.

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Allow your child to experience the physical and cognitive effects of being hungry before eating - their young body’s regulatory reflexes come from feeling hungry and then knowing when they are full.

Research shows that children who are taught in this manner develop positive food attitudes, interest in eating a variety of foods, an intuitive sense of how much to eat, and long term skills for healthy eating and meal planning.[2]

There are a few things you can do to encourage your child to feel hungry and full, such as only offering a meal or snack every 2-3 hours (allow your child to feel the hunger and sensation of fullness) and only offering water in between meals (rather than juice or sugary beverages).

Sit and have meals with your child, as time allows, and eat the same foods as they eat.  Not only will you be in a better position to monitor your baby’s preferences, but you can encourage her choices and ease her frustrations through words and sounds.  When baby tries a new food or enjoys an old favorite, you can show him that his choices matter to you.  Another benefit is cognitive: take the opportunity to teach your child the names of the foods he’s eating!

Keep in mind it can take up to 20 exposures of a new food before a child accepts it.  This is true when introducing solids to an infant as well as more complex foods to a toddler.  Before you rule out a food and dismiss your child as disliking it, keep offering it.  Chances are, after enough exposures, your child may have a change of heart.   While some degree of pickiness is normal, if you feel if you feel concerned with your child’s feeding habits, consult your pediatrician or a registered dietitian.

With the principles above, you’ll be on your way to raising a healthy eater!  For practical tips for introducing solids,  stay tuned for my next post, “Age-appropriate portions for toddlers (and parents)”.

[1] Satter, Ellen M.,  Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, Bull Publishing Company; Revised edition (March 1, 2000) http://www.amazon.com/Child-Mine-Feeding-Revised-Updated/dp/0923521518

[2] Satter, “Eating Competence: Definition and Evidence for the Satter Eating Competence Model” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior ● Volume 39, Number 5S, September/October 2007  http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/cms-assets/documents/101150-596171.ecdefandev.pdf