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It is so easy to use food as a comfort or a distraction when a child is upset or irritable. The other day I was in the supermarket with my 15 month-old granddaughter. I had nearly finished buying what I needed when she started to become grisly. My first thought was “I’ll give her a piece of bread to distract her”. When I stopped for a second and thought about it, I realised that she had eaten morning tea only an hour before and there was no need to give her food. I gave her my keys instead and she was happy until we got home. If she had eaten the bread, she would have been less hungry for the next meal.

One of the best ways to encourage children to eat is to ensure they come to the table hungry. They most likely won’t be hungry if they are snacking throughout the day. Children do, however, need to be offered food at regular times throughout the day – at breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. But nothing in between those times. At each meal, let them eat as much or as little as they want. This ensures that they have had enough to eat and they can last until the next meal. It also gives them the message that you trust their appetite and that you are not trying to get them to eat more than what they are hungry for.

For example, if your child has had morning tea, they don’t need anything until lunchtime, even if they ask for food. The appropriate response could be “we’ve had morning tea and will be having lunch soon”. Even eating healthy foods such as fruit and crackers provides calories/kilojoules that will affect how hungry they are at the next meal. It’s helpful to remember that we actually want children to come to the table hungry. This won’t happen if they snack between meals.

Eve Reed is a leading paediatric dietitian. She started Familyfoodworks to support parents to take the stress out of  feeding their children. For more information please contact us on 02 9437 4752.