Should you restrict how much your toddler eats?
The answer is: it depends on how you do it.
Wholesale restriction — “I never give my child sugar.” — is usually a big mistake, but so is unfettered access to the pantry.
Research shows that restricting foods makes kids really, really want to eat the forbidden fruits (you know what happened in the original story). The result is typically counterproductive: your kids end up eating (or at least craving) more of the foods you want them to avoid. They also end up consuming more calories overall.
On the other end of the spectrum, research shows that kids who are given too much of a free rein eat fewer fruits and vegetables than children who are given more guidance. And these kids also end up consuming more calories overall.
So what works? A moderate amount of restriction. (Like Goldilocks, you have to strike a balance.)
2-6 year olds now consume 182 more calories each day than they did 30 years ago.
And those additional calories aren’t coming from apple slices and carrot sticks either. They’re coming primarily from desserts, salty snacks, candy and fruit drinks.
So you can’t just sit back and do nothing.
Proponents of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding are particularly attuned to this issue and often tell me that they allow their children to eat as much as they want, even when it comes to treats. But these parents are getting Satter’s message wrong.
Contrary to popular interpretation, Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility doesn’t mean letting kids go wild.
The idea behind Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding is that children inherently know how much they should eat, and so don’t need to be pressured by their parents to eat more, to eat less, or even to eat anything at all.
The Division of Responsibility stacks up like this:
- The parent is responsible for what, when, where.
- The child is responsible for how much and whether.
But even Satter thinks that sweets and treats have to be handled with care.
For instance, Satter recommends that parents limit kids to eating just one serving of dessert.
To counter the problem that restricting access to desirable foods enhances their allure, Satter suggests that parents occasionally offer their children unlimited access to sweets. (I don’t know what she means by occasionally, but I doubt Satter means more than once or twice a month. She probably means less.)
Satter doesn’t really mean unlimited though because there’s one caveat: the free-for-all is limited to the amount a kid can consume in one sit-down snacking session. When forced to sit at the table, most young children run out of attention before they run out of steam. Stomach-space is limited, but attention span even more so. It’s a brilliant, self-limiting system!
Eating at the table isn’t just a clever way to limit your kids’ consumption of cr*p without a struggle. It is also the right lifetime habit: people eat more when they graze-as-they-go instead of when they eat sitting at the table.
Read more about what Satter says about Using “Forbidden” Foods.
Children need structured guidance in order to eat right.
They also need to feel in control.
And that’s the beauty of Satter’s approach to sweets and treats: it combines structure and restraint in a way that doesn’t build up a rebellion.
1) Don’t demonize sweets and treats. Instead, teach your children how to fit them into their diets appropriately. Read Slacker’s Rule.
2) Consider letting your children decide when they eat their treats. Read Candy with Breakfast?
3) Let your kids indulge from time-to-time, but do it in a way that provides natural limits. Read Todd’s Law or the Guilt-Free Way to Say “Yes” to Sweets.
~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~
http://www.ellynsatter.com accessed 8/31/2010.
Jansen, E., S. Mulkens, and A. Jansen. 2007. “Do Not Eat the Red Food!: Prohibition of Snacks Leads to Their Relatively Higher Consumption in Children.” Appetite 49(3): 572-77.
Patrick, H., T. A. Nicklas, S. O. Hughes, and M. Morales. 2005. “The Benefits of Authoritative Feeding Style: Caregiver Feeding Styles and Children’s Food Consumption Patterns.” Appetite 44(2): 243-49.
Piernas, C. and B. M. Popkin. 2010. “Trends in Snacking Among U.S. Children.” Health Affairs 29(3): 398-404.