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How Do I Know My Child Has Eaten Enough? The Importance of Responsive Feeding

As parents, ensuring our children receive adequate nutrition is a top priority. However, knowing when your child has eaten enough can be challenging. Responsive feeding, a practice that respects a child’s hunger and satiety cues, is crucial in promoting healthy eating habits. This blog, brought to you by Paediatric Nutrition based in Abu Dhabi, will delve into the signs that your child has eaten enough and the importance of responsive feeding.


Responsive Feeding - Paediatric Nutrition

Understanding Your Child's Hunger and Fullness Cues


What Are Hunger and Satiety Cues?

Hunger and satiety cues are signals from your child that indicate when they are hungry and when they are full. Learning to recognise these cues is important to help your child develop a a healthy long term relationship with food, and maintain a healthy weight when they are older. 


Common Hunger Cues in Children

  • Infants: Rooting, sucking on hands, fussiness

  • Toddlers and Older Children: Verbal requests for food, reaching for food, excitement when food is presented

Common Fullness Cues in Children

  • Infants: Turning head away, closing mouth, decreased sucking

  • Toddlers and Older Children: Pushing food away, shaking head, saying “no” to food, playing with food instead of eating


Responsive Feeding - Paediatric Nutrition

The Importance of Responsive Feeding


What is Responsive Feeding?

Responsive feeding is a feeding practice that involves recognising and responding appropriately to your child’s hunger and fullness cues. This approach promotes a positive eating experience and helps children develop healthy eating habits.


Benefits of Responsive Feeding

  • Promotes Self-Regulation: Helps children learn to listen to their bodies, reducing the risk of overeating.

  • Supports Healthy Growth: Ensures children get the nutrients they need without overfeeding.

  • Encourages a Positive Relationship with Food: Reduces mealtime battles and stress, making eating a pleasant experience.


Practical Tips for Responsive Feeding


Establishing a Routine

  • Consistent Meal and Snack Times: Offer meals and snacks at regular intervals to help children learn what to expect.

  • Balanced Meals: Provide a variety of foods from all food groups to ensure balanced nutrition.

  • Do not let your child graze - children who graze throughout the day eat less at mealtimes, with some children not meeting their energy requirements.


Creating a Positive Mealtime Environment

  • Minimise Distractions: Turn off the TV and put away toys during meals to help children focus on eating.

  • Encourage Family Meals: Eating together as a family sets a positive example and promotes healthy eating habits. This can be difficult for some families with busy work schedules - any amount of time eating together helps. 


Encouraging Healthy Eating Behaviours

  • Offer a Variety of Foods: Encourage children to try new foods without pressuring them to eat. It can take many exposures before a child will try a new food. Exposure without pressure is key. They cannot learn to eat new foods if they are never offered new foods. 

  • Respect Their Appetite: Allow children to eat as much or as little as they want, trusting their hunger and fullness cues - this can be difficult for parents. 


Responsive Feeding - Paediatric Nutrition

Common Concerns and Misconceptions

My Child is a Picky Eater

It's normal for children to be picky eaters at certain stages. Continue offering a variety of foods without pressuring them. Forcing, bribing or restricting foods can increase food refusal, it can make a typical stage of fussiness into a longer term issue. Trying to control how much children eat can also affect a child’s ability to recognise if they are hungry or full in the longer term. 


My Child Always Seems Hungry

Children have varying appetites, and growth spurts can increase hunger. An established meal/snack routine will help with this. Children will come to know when their next meal/snack is due and eat to appetite. 


My Child Doesn’t Finish Their Meals

Children’s appetites can fluctuate. Respect their signals and avoid forcing them to clean their plate. Rather than focus on dietary intake day-to-day, review their intake over two weeks. Most children tend to eat what they need over that period of time. 


Conclusion

Responsive feeding is a key practice in ensuring your child gets the nutrition they need while fostering a healthy relationship with food. By paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, creating a positive mealtime environment, and encouraging balanced eating habits, you can help your child develop a strong foundation for lifelong healthy eating.


For personalised advice on your child’s nutrition, contact Paediatric Nutrition in Abu Dhabi. Our experts are here to support you in nurturing your child’s health and wellbeing.


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