05 Jun Mom Asks, MDIO Answers: Are your children hiding bites of food?
Are your children hiding bites of food?
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and Mom of Two
A real mom asks:
MDIO recently received a question about how to handle a young child who hides her food. The mom explained that her daughter regularly showed her empty dinner plates. Her regular response would be: “What a great job!” Later, she would find her child’s food hidden somewhere. When this mom asked her daughter why she was hiding her food rather than eating it, the child responded: “I don’t know.” I’m sure many parents can relate to this in one way or another.
A real mom/RD answers:
There always seem to be so many challenges when feeding our little ones! Here are some suggestions to explore…and hopefully help to resolve your “missing” food dilemmas.
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1. Eat meals with your children or at least sit down at the table during their meal times. Not only will this prevent your children from having easy opportunities to get up to hide their food but it may also foster valuable conversations and enjoyable family time together. Your children may be acting out…or silently asking for attention…or just trying to gain approval for dessert!
2. Stop giving praise for finishing all of their dinner! Yup, that’s right! Praise your children for trying foods, sitting at the table, and sharing their day’s activities with you…but definitely not for cleaning their plates! Keep in mind that your kids will typically overeat or hide their food to garner praise for eating 100% of their meal…or sometimes just to follow the table rules you mistakenly may have set!
3. Start talking with your children about listening to their bodies’ cues for hunger and fullness. Teach them to notice how they feel at the beginning of a meal, the middle of a meal, and at the end of a meal. Then check in with them to see how they feel an hour after. This will help your children learn to use “self talk” and check in with their own bodies as they get older—and hopefully cultivate a lifetime of internally regulating their food intake by way of mind and body clues. And please let your children know they do not need to eat everything on their plate!
4. Give your children a choice of two different dinners. The act of choosing helps to give your children feelings of pride and independence. For example, you might ask: “Do you want roast chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans tonight or would you prefer rice and beans with ham and green beans?”
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5. Cook with your children to help identify which foods they like while also teaching them some of the fundamentals of living. Learning how to cook, set the table, clear the table, and even clean up the kitchen help children to understand the basics of nutrition, the time spent, and the constant effort required to feed a family. Your children will be more likely to respect meal times and less likely to hide their food…and then start “grazing” later.
6. Play detective! Observe if your children are grazing…or eating more snack foods or just some specific foods…before or after the meal. (And don’t forget to check out whether instances of food hiding have occurred.)
7. Finally, don’t forget that heart-to-heart talks are always helpful. Sit down with your children and let them know you will not be angry…or yelling…at them! (But you must remember to keep that promise!) Then try to explore their feelings about and behaviors during the meal and, perhaps even more revelatory, other things that may be affecting their food consumption behaviors.
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