Health and Nutrition for Kids

Timing is everything! Expert reveals when kids should be eating

This nutritionist has some awesome top tips on when kids should be eating to help overcome fussy eating and difficult meal time behaviours.

A baby doesn't like his meal.
Source: iStock

Timing is EVERYTHING, nutritionist Nikki Boswell tells The Healthy Mummy.

1. Do not offer your child food when they are tired

Toddler being picky and fussy while being fed baby food.
Source: iStock

“It may seem obvious, but the key here is to offer food when your child is hungry. Don’t offer food when your child is tired as this can disrupt a child’s appetite cues as well as increase the likelihood that you will be dealing with a grumpy, irrational and emotional little person,” says Nikki.

It is also important not to offer food when your child is emotional, stressed or bored.

“This can set up eating habits that are not associated with hunger that can drive fussy eating and difficult mealtime behaviours.”

2. Do not let your child snack in between set meals and snacks

Little 2 years old girl eating jello
Source: iStock

For younger children who have small stomachs, small meals or snacks every two to three hours is suitable, but always listen to your child’s hunger cues says Nikki.

What’s more, she advises that by the time a child reaches school age they should be having three regular meals and one or two small snacks.

It is important that children are not allowed to graze or eat/drink (other than water) between meals and set snacks as this can prevent them from being hungry at meal/snack times.”

3. Meals should be in a designated meal eating area

Portrait of eating baby boy at home
Source: iStock

“Meals and snacks should always be offered in a designated meal/eating area,” says Nikki.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal dining table, but a calm, relaxing space that is routinely used for eating, away from distractions such as TVs and even toys and games.

“In outdoor spaces, a picnic blanket can be used as a regular meal setting that cues your child to engage with their hunger signals.

“If sitting at a table, make sure the seating and utensils are appropriately sized for the child, so that they can sit comfortably. It is important that children are not allowed to wander around during meals or while eating, firstly, as this can be a choking risk, but also as it distracts from the eating experience and does not allow them to engage with and explore their food.”

4. Let your child decide how much they want to eat

Portrait of little one year old baby at table eating food from a plate with hand
Source: iStock

It would be nice if our little ones ate as much as we put on their plate, but Nikki says it is our responsibility to respect how much our kids want to eat.

“If they choose not to eat, that’s OK but they will need to wait until the next meal/snack time before food will be offered again,” she says.

“If this is a new approach to feeding your child, particularly if they are young and don’t have the foresight of older children, it is reasonable to set smaller time boundaries (at least 30 minutes) before offering food again, but after the second offer if they have chosen not to eat again they should wait for the next meal/snack time.”

5. Re-introduce food they refuse to eat

A biracial baby boy/ toddler sitting at the table and eating in a nursery setting.
Source: iStock

It is common for children to try new or unfamiliar foods and dislike it the first time, says Nikki. But don’t give up!

“Repeat and frequent exposure to foods we want our children to eat is the key to overcoming this issue – however, it is not always a failsafe,” she says.

“As children hit around two years of age and transition through developmental milestones, foods they had previously been exposed to (and even eaten regularly) can become ‘new’ again thus requiring the food to be re-introduced as if it were a new food.

“Food exposure doesn’t need to be restricted to meal times and can happen in quiet incidental ways – ask your child to get the food from the fridge for you, or help you chop and prepare the food for the meal.”

6. Do not force feed

Fussy Eater
Source: iStock

Forcing a child to eat something they don’t want to has several consequences, says Nikki.

“Firstly it undermines the trust relationship within the division of responsibility; secondly it creates a tension around meal times and places the foods being served, often things like vegetables, in a negative context which obviously is not going to result in a positive family food environment or the food being enjoyed; lastly, forcing a child to eat something when they don’t want to, overrides their satiety cues which can cause them to overeat and can lead to weight gain.”

7. Remember to be consistent, persistent and patient

little sweet baby is eating baby food
Source: iStock

“All children are different, strategies that work for one child may not work for another,”said Nikki. 

“Some children are far more resistant than others, but please don’t give up, your children’s health and a lifetime of eating behaviour depends on your persistence.”

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