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My 18-month old has a large appetite. If she likes what she's eating, she'll just keep eating, and she isn't picky. Sometimes she polishes off nearly as much as me in a sitting. Her daycare tells us what she ate for lunch each day, and it'll often say she had 3 or 4 "servings".

So far, we haven't been trying to limit how much she eats. She eats healthy, her favourite foods are vegetables and fruits, so we've been treating it as a good thing that she likes to eat.

She's tall for her age. She isn't chubby and looks healthy, so I think she's getting the amount of food that she needs right now. I just want to make sure that we're also setting her up to have healthy eating habits as she gets older.

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Offer your child a variety of food, mostly healthy. Do not limit the amount of healthy food. Restrictive feeding of children by parents is associated with eating in the absence of hunger (inability to self-regulate), a known risk factor for obesity (Johnson & Birch, 1994, Birch et al., 2003).

Keep track of where your child is on the growth curve in terms of percent weight and height. Percent weight should stay approximately the same. If there is any sharp change, consult the child's pediatrician.

In our experience, we only limit the amount of dessert to one small dessert per day, but your mileage may vary.

REFERENCES:

The Division of Responsibility for Toddlers Through Adolescents:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

The Parents’ Feeding Jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Make eating times pleasant.
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior.
  • Do not let children graze for food or beverages between meals and snack times.
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them.

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat. If parents do their jobs with respect to feeding, children do their jobs with respect to eating.

Children’s Eating Jobs:

  • Children will eat.
  • They will eat the amount they need.
  • They will eat an increasing variety of food.
  • They will grow predictably.
  • They will learn to behave well at the table.

(pp. 70-71)

Ellyn Satter (2005) Your Child's Weight (Helping Without Harming). Kelcy Press, Madison, WI: https://www.amazon.com/Your-Childs-Weight-Helping-Without/dp/0967118913

The best predictor of children's ability to regulate energy intake was parental control in the feeding situation: mothers who were more controlling of their children's food intake had children who showed less ability to self-regulate energy intake (r = -.67, P < .0001).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the optimal environment for children's development of self-control of energy intake is that in which parents provide healthy food choices but allow children to assume control of how much they consume.

Johnson SL, Birch LL. Parents' and children's adiposity and eating style. Pediatrics. 1994;94(5):653-661: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7936891

Experimental findings causally link restrictive child-feeding practices to overeating in children. [...] These longitudinal data provide evidence that maternal restriction can promote overeating.

Birch LL, Fisher JO, Davison KK. Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding practices promotes girls' eating in the absence of hunger. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003 Aug;78(2):215-220. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/78.2.215: http://europepmc.org/article/MED/12885700

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