Infants and children know how much to eat. In the first six months of life, they need either breastmilk or infant formula. A breastfed baby starts eating when it is hungry and stops when it is full without us even knowing how much they ate. This is the same for a bottle-fed infant, just that we know how much formula they have had. It is really important and sometimes difficult to trust that your bottle-fed infant has had enough when there is still some formula left in the bottle!.
Once a baby start solids, they will reduce the amount of breastmilk or formula to compensate for the the kilojoules from the solids. It’s pretty amazing really. The amount of food that a baby needs is determined mostly by their weight and also by how active they are. So a baby who is six months old and weighs 6kg will need a lot less food than a 6 month-old who weighs 8kg.
By the second year, toddlers will be eating five times a day – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. At each of these meals you will offer 3 or 4 different foods and your child will eat as much or as little as they want.
You will show your child that you trust their appetite by:
- Letting them finish the meal when they have had enough to eat. Most babies and children give clear signs of when they have finished eating. Younger children turn their head away from the spoon of food that’s coming towards them, they will start throwing food instead of eating it. Older children might push the plate away, slow down eating or start playing with the food. Whichever way your child lets you know, take notice and either take them out of the high chair or let them leave the table.
- Let them eat as much or as little as they want at each meal. We cannot know how hungry someone else is when they start a meal. Hunger is subjective and depends on many factors such as what was eaten at the previous meal, whether they have been grazing in between meals, how active they have been. Don’t limit how much your child eats at a meal.
- Allowing your child to eat as much as they need to fill up. Once again, only they can tell when they are full. If they have finished everything you have offered, offer more of the staple food such as bread, crackers, cereal, toast, pasta, rice etc. You want to make sure they leave the table full so they can last until the next meal.