New research on parent-feeding recommends that parents should decide what, when and where food is served and the child decides whether to eat it and how much food to eat. This strategy may contradict what many parents are already doing when it comes to meal time in their families. Apprehensions about allowing your child to eat how much food they want might be based in a concern over food waste or a worry they will overeat, which could lead to weight gain and longer term health problems. These concerns are real and should, of course, be taken into account. Yet this research highlights an important intrinsic aspect of all people that is commonly overlooked. Self-regulation. We largely live in a society which is…well…large. Bigger is better and more is best. It seems as though we’ve lost our ability to believe that we can self-regulate. Allowing your children to serve themselves is one step towards getting this back.
We are all born with the ability to self-regulate when it comes to food, to know when we’ve eaten enough and too much is too much. Ideally, allowing children to serve themselves would begin when they are toddlers. Relinquishing the idea that your child must finish all of the food that you deem necessary to feed them is the first step. Then, put your trust back in your child’s own ability to know when she is hungry and when she is full.
Remember that as the parent, you get to decide what, when, and where food is served. The what is very important here. The new USDA My Plate recommends that half of your plate at meals should consist of fruits and vegetables. What is served for dinner should reflect an effort to enable all of your family members to have ½ their plate be delicious veggies and fruits; with these foods being the centerpiece of the meal and with protein, grains, and dairy being secondary. The USDA has incorporated the strategy of allowing children to feed themselves in their Core Nutrition Messages – One of which says “Let them learn by serving themselves. Let your kids serve themselves at dinner. Teach them to take small amounts at first. Tell them they can get more if they are hungry.”
The next time you sit down for a family meal, consider allowing your little one serve themselves. It will help build their self-confidence and reawaken their ability to self-regulate.