Children copy the behaviours of others. Your children will pick up eating behaviours exhibited by parents, siblings, other family members and friends so try to be a positive role model for your child by eating and enjoying regular meals with them if possible.
Give children child-sized portions
For parents who are limiting their own calorie intake or portion size, they may lose sight of what is an appropriate portion for their growing child. It is important to give children suitable portions, rather than those that are too large or too small. Guidance on portion size can be found here: http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/Documents/pdf/Step_By_Step_Me_Size_Meals.pdf or here: http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/pages/kids-portion-size-tips.aspx. As a general rule, a portion of fruit or vegetables is the same size as a person’s palm. So, a child-size portion of peas on a dinner plate should be the same size as your child’s palm. Offer a healthy, balanced diet
Children and adults need a nutritious, balanced diet for optimal development and health. Try to ensure that you are giving your children meals that include: fruit and vegetables; starchy foods (e.g., rice, pasta, bread, potatoes); meat, fish, eggs and beans; milk and dairy foods; and moderate amounts of food containing fat and sugar (see here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Documents/Eatwellplate.pdf). Don’t cut food groups out of your child’s diet (unless they have an allergy / intolerance) and do try to offer a variety of foods across mealtimes.
Ensure that children have three meals a day, as well as healthy snacks. Research suggests that breakfast is particularly important for school children as it provides them with energy required for the day. Listen to your child
Children are good regulators of their own levels of hunger and fullness. They will tell you when they are hungry and full. If they are often still hungry 20 minutes after finishing their meal, it may be that the portion size is too small for them.
Try not to be too controlling2-5
Parents may feel that their child needs to eat all the food on their plate in order to be healthy. Avoid pressuring or forcing your child to eat more than he/she wishes. Pressuring children to eat food can result in the food becoming less liked and children eating less of that food. If your child tells you he/she is full, they probably are.
Try not to overly restrict your child’s access to (unhealthy) foods. Limiting children’s intake of foods can unintentionally make these foods seem more desirable and children may then eat more of these foods if given free access to them (e.g., at parties).
Everything in moderation. Keeping track of what your child eats is good parenting and ensuring that your child eats a balanced diet is encouraged. However, it is important to offer your child a balance of foods from all the food groups to ensure healthy growth and development. Above all remember that food is a fuel. Your child requires a healthy, balanced diet and regular meals and snacks in order to grow and remain healthy.
This information sheet has been produced by Dr Emma Haycraft, Dr Claire Farrow, Prof Jon Arcelus & Prof Caroline Meyer from Loughborough University Centre for Research into Eating Disorders, and has been endorsed by Beat and the Leicester Eating Disorder Service. 1 Palfreyman,
Haycraft & Meyer (in press). Maternal & Child Nutrition; 2 Blissett, Meyer & Haycraft (2006). Appetite, 47, 212-9; 3 Haycraft & Blissett (2008). Eating Behaviours, 9, 484-92; 4 Farrow & Blissett (2008). Pediatrics, 121, 1-6; 5 Farrow et al. (2009). Appetite, 52, 307-312.