How Much is Enough

How Much is Enough

When your child is a baby you often get asked "are they a ‘good eater?" but as they grow into a toddler and eat more at times you get questions like "don’t you think they have had enough?" Parent

Children are pretty good at eating as much as they need

When given the chance, children are actually very good at eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full. In fact, they’re often much better than adults. What can make it confusing is they don’t always eat in a way that looks consistent. Some days they might eat a lot and other days not so much.

When thinking about what and how much your child eats you need to consider this over a couple of weeks, as well as their growth, any illness and general well being. In most cases there is no need to worry. If you are concerned, you can talk to your GP or child health nurse.

Commenting on a child’s eating can get tricky

Commenting on a child’s eating can cause more harm than good. Saying something like “that’s enough rice for you” or “you can’t still be hungry” interferes with a child’s job when it comes to mealtimes. This can affect how much they trust what their body is telling them. You may find it helpful to let others know you would prefer them not to comment on your child's eating. Read more about respecting your child's on appetite cues and building body trust

Worrying about how much your child eats is normal

If you notice a little voice going off in your head worrying about what your child is eating, try thinking about where that thought is coming from. Are you worried about your child’s weight or size ? Or the lack of nutrition in that meal? Or that others may judge (or comment) on what or how much they’re eating?

Being a parent isn’t easy and these situations can be really tough to navigate. Remember, you’re teaching your child how to eat for their lifetime, not just for that day. Try to focus on the bigger picture, rather than that one meal or one day.

Read more about how to shape your child's body image

Food gives us pleasure

It’s important to look at food from your child’s point of view, because they don’t think about food in the same (often negative) way that we do. Food can bring joy, be fun and tasty – it’s as simple as that. Any food is able to give a child pleasure, for example a crunchy apple or a flavoursome vegetable curry, or a slice of cake. And it’s important that we let them hold onto that.

Don’t worry, you still have a very important role when it comes to feeding your child. You’re still in charge of what food is offered and where it is served. It’s not your job to decide when they’re full – that’s their job. And yes, sometimes they’ll eat more than they’re hungry for (because it’s delicious, or perhaps a food they don’t get very often) and that’s ok. We all eat more than we’re hungry for sometimes. Read more about your role in feeding

So please allow your child the chance to listen to their body. This way you can focus on doing your job by offering your child foods which they can eat until they’re full.

Taking a neutral approach to food helps

Learning to be truly neutral about food is really hard given there is so much messaging about food and health all around us. The way children learn to eat is from what they see others around them eating and the food they are offered. Your role is to offer a variety of foods from each food group (breads and cereals, vegetables and legumes, fruits, meat and alternatives and dairy and alternatives) to help your child grow and learn to eat a variety of foods. It can be helpful to consider how you may include foods like sweets in what your family eats, read more about how to do this 

Taking a neutral approach to the way you talk about food helps your child find joy in all types of food. Try not to talk about how some foods are more enjoyable than others based on what you think about health for example “I know broccoli does not taste good but it’s good for you” or  “wow it’s great you enjoy apples they’ll keep you healthy”.

Try “these apples are straight from the fridge so they are cold and crunchy” or “I am finding this cake soft and sweet what words would you use?”

Role model enjoying eating a range of foods that satisfy hunger and that meet other needs that are important for your family (for example foods and celebrations that are important to your culture).

Asking for more or taking extra helpings

When planning a family meal or snack have enough food to meet hunger needs. This can include bread, rice, vegetables or any food you have available. It doesn’t mean that every food has to be offered in an unlimited amount. If there’s only a certain amount of a particular food to go around then let your child know that there’s a limit at the start of the meal. You could say something like “that’s all the pizza there is. If you’re still hungry you can fill up on the other foods on offer” or “there’s enough cake for everyone to have one slice each”.

Things to remember

  • It’s normal to find eating pleasurable – whether it’s a crunchy apple, piping hot chips or a rich piece of cake. Pleasure in eating is a good thing!
  • Try not to comment on what or how much your child (or other children) eats, to help them stay tuned into their own appetite cues (encourage others caring for your child to do the same).
  • It’s normal to eat more than we’re hungry for sometimes, and that’s OK.
  • Remember your role in feeding - you provide, and your child decides
  • Treat all bodies equally and with respect read more about this topic