The Four Feeding Styles for Kids: Which Works Best?
According to experts, this is the ultimate feeding style if you've got a fussy eater on your hands.
If you’re a parent with a fussy eater and you’ve often found yourself wondering how to deal with picky eaters, we’ve got good news for you: You’re definitely not alone.
Many parents go nuts trying to figure out how to deal with picky eaters at home (and worse still, outside!). And of course, you’ve done extensive research on how to deal with picky eaters and found many answers out there.
But out of the four known feeding styles often talked about, you should only be adopting one of them, says expert Jill Castle, who is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert and mother of four.
How to deal with picky eaters: Which feeding style to use?
With so many kids facing eating disorders and body image issues nowadays, the way we approach feeding must change.
Parents, did you know that how you feed your child can determine their emotional and physical health? That’s how serious an issue this is!
“We have evidence in the childhood nutrition literature that feeding styles may influence not only a child’s body weight but their relationship with food and how they behave around eating,” Castle adds.
So, with this logic, Castle believes there is only one feeding style worth using on a picky eater.
The different feeding styles
First, let’s take a look at the different feeding styles there are.
1. Authoritarian feeding style
This is a style many Asian parents might be guilty of. Asian children are commonly told they have to finish all the food on their plates. Asian parents also tend to restrict a child’s access to foods that they perceive to be unhealthy or lacking in nutrition.
However, this style of feeding doesn’t take into consideration the child’s views on their own appetite. For example, a child may resort to overeating to please their parents, says Castle. This can lead to weight problems.
2. Permissive feeding style
On the other extreme end is permissive feeding or “indulgent” feeding. This is where parents let a child eat whatever they want whenever they want.
3. Neglectful feeding style
Though not a very common feeding style among Asian parents, some parents who might not have sufficient help at home might fall into this category.
Neglectful feeding is when parents do not plan for meals or shop for food regularly. This type of uncertainty would lead a child to insecurity.
“When a child is not sure when food will be served or can’t get enough of a food or a type of food, they can become a bit more focused on food and exhibit behaviours that lead to overeating,” Castle adds.
4. Authoritative style: “Love with Limits” or the RECOMMENDED Feeding Style
The last style is a balance between giving your child what is best for them while still considering their feelings. This is a feeding style most associated with positive health outcomes.
Rather than giving your child free rein or being a total control freak over their food, this style is a compromise of both.
A parent can ask, ‘do you prefer green beans or broccoli for dinner?’. This way, the parent is still in control in giving the child choices for their vegetables. But the child has their say and is more involved in the decision-making process.
This style also encourages your child to pick out their own meals and portion size.
According to experts, parents who offer this type of supportive environment and respect their children’s wishes are better able to help their children make healthy decisions when it comes to food.
“When you shift a bit of control to the child, we see so much more compliance and calmness around food and so much more happiness around the food,” Castle said.
How to deal with picky eaters: Actions lead to consequences
While you can only do so much with picky eaters using feeding styles, what if your child still insists on not wanting to eat during mealtimes?
First of all, you can coax your child to come to the dinner table to join for the meal, to spend time with the family. But do not force them to eat.
“You can have a conversation about why they are not hungry, but we have to do a better job as parents of respecting children’s appetites and let them own that piece of their bodily function,” Castle says.
If the child later demands to have food because they are hungry, remind them that dinner time is over and the next meal is breakfast.
How to deal with picky eaters: 5 tips to try at home
Now that you know which feeding style to use, you still have to maintain good habits so that your picky eater at home can overcome his or her fussiness when it comes to food. Learn how to deal with picky eaters with these five tips.
1. How to deal with picky eaters tip #1: Plan meals
Every child needs structure and a schedule. This is especially important when it comes to food. Feed them at the same feeding times everyday. This helps their bodies to regulate their appetites to know when they’re hungry or not.
2. How to deal with picky eaters tip #2: Don’t totally ban sweets
Sweets and snacks don’t have to be “evil”. In fact, if your child’s diet is already chock-full of nutrition, they will have little space left for sweets and snacks. So if they want a candy or two after their meal, it’s okay.
“The way you include sweets will depend on what works for you as a family. Some parents might wish to wait until dinner is finished before offering children dessert, while others may feel comfortable serving a cookie or brownie on the dinner plate in an effort to avoid stigmatising dessert as a “forbidden food,” says Castle.
3. How to deal with picky eaters tip #3: Listen to what your child wants
Again, this tip rides on the authoritative style of feeding. What a child gets versus what they want can be two very different things, Castle explains.
A parent might put a few Hershey’s Kisses in a child’s lunch box as a fun food, but the child may not want the chocolates and may instead prefer biscuits after their meal. This is something you ought to discuss with your child so you build good communication habits surrounding food.
4. How to deal with picky eaters tip #4: Be a good role model
You can’t expect your child to learn how to balance out their intake if they don’t see you doing the same.
Experts say it’s OK for a child to see that a parent has likes and dislikes, but they need to show that they eat regular meals and prefer healthy foods, too.
“If your child sees you sitting on the couch with a big bowl of ice cream, that’s what a child will absorb,” Castle adds.
5. How to deal with picky eaters tip #5: Treat every child the same
If you have more than one child at home, make sure not to show preference or favouritism by allowing the older (or younger) child to get away with bad eating habits. Every child should be treated the same.