You’ve all seen the articles where the writer brags about their young child eating spicy foods, clams, mussels and every vegetable known to man. The parent gloats and takes full credit for the good eater they’ve created. And because this makes them an expert, they offer up advice which is usually something like “Don’t change a thing, just give your kid EVERYTHING you eat!”
Those parents with less-than-adventurous eaters may feel a pang of guilt for not offering their child clams or super-spicy foods.
But something vital is missing from these all-too-familiar messages about feeding: all kids are different. While parents have a strong influence over their child’s eating over time, each child comes into the world with their own eating personality. And figuring out what that is, and working around it, can help parents and children immensely.
In part one of our Picky Eating series, we helped you rule out whether or not your kid’s picky eating habits are normal. Now we are going to classify normal eating behavior to help you better understand your child. One quick note: if your child is under two their true eating personality may not be revealed yet.
Eating Style Types
In Ellyn’s Satter’s book, Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, she discusses findings from pediatrician and researcher Clara Davis. In one study, Davis observed how children accept a variety of foods over time. As a result, she classified children’s food acceptance in one of three ways. Take a look to see where your child fits:
The Enthusiastic Eater: These eaters will try and accept new foods easily and learn to like a variety of foods sooner than most children. Like some kids learn to talk or read early, these little ones are quick learners in the food department.
The Steady Accumulator: This is the category in which most kids are likely to fall. They are cautious with new foods but over time, very gradually, add a variety of food to their repertoire.
The Late Bloomer: This eating personality often shows up when solids are first started. These children are extremely cautious with food and may take until middle childhood to learn to like a variety of foods. While we’ll talk more about the why of picky eating in the next post, some believe these ultra-cautious kids may be “super-tasters,” and are much more sensitive to the taste and texture of foods.
Once you understand how your little one accepts new foods, you also have to consider their temperament. Are they stubborn? Easy going? Somewhere in between?
Why does this matter? It’s good to know if your kid does better with encouragement or not. Stubborn children are more likely to rebel while easy going kids might do fine with a little push (no forcing of course).
My three-year old is the in-between child, meaning some encouragement is okay but too much turns her off. I mainly talk to her about trying new foods when she’s not eating. Like a lot of kids, she takes pride in trying the food on her terms, when she’s ready. But an easy going, enthusiastic eater is likely to accept encouragement easily.
How much they eat
I just went to a barbecue where I met an enthusiastic eating 7-year old girl. Before dinner she snacked on fruits, cheese, vegetables and crackers. She even made her own cracker sandwich with dried fruit and veggies. I thought, if this was my daughter, there’s no way she would touch her dinner after eating that. But this girl ate her entire dinner plus 2 servings of dessert. Oh, and she was tall and thin.
Just as kids accept a variety of food differently, they also eat different quantities. Bigger kids do not always eat more food than smaller ones. Each kid comes with their unique metabolism determining how fast or slow they burn calories.
If we try to force kids with little appetites to eat more, they eat even less. And if we try to restrict kids with big appetites, they’ll want to eat more. As parents, it’s important to recognize that different kids need different amounts of food.
Use it to your advantage
My daughter was a great sleeper from day one and responded VERY well to sleep advice. My son was colicky and did not. Luckily I armed myself with information about colic to help me get through the tough first 4 months. I had to accept that my son was not like my daughter in terms of sleep but I also knew he could end up a good of sleeper if I stayed the course.
As a parent you already know your child’s way of eating extremely well. But if you find yourself constantly frustrated, it’s probably because you are attempting to change an eating personality that is unchangeable. Maybe you are trying hard to get your late bloomer to be an enthusiastic eater. Or you are overly pushing your stubborn child to try new foods. Or you are trying to make your love-to-eat child eat smaller amounts like other kids.
But the best news is that all kids can grow up to be healthy and happy eaters. It’s just the road to get there will be different for each unique child. And this series will provide you with the tools you need to be successful.
So I’m curious. What kind of eater(s) do you have at home? I have a Steady Accumulator who is semi-stubborn and eats a huge breakfast, medium lunch and picks at dinner. My littlest one’s eating personality is yet to be determined.