Although most parents struggle to get their kids to eat and worry they aren’t eating enough, you might be one who worries you’re overfeeding your kids.
With rates of childhood obesity still at an all time high and other conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise in kids, your cause for concern is justified.
What’s more, raising kids who have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food now can help lower their risk for obesity-related diseases and emotional eating when they’re adults.
Although you shouldn’t put your kids on a diet, count calories or make an issue out of how much they’re eating, it can be tough to tell whether you’re giving them enough or too much.
Here, learn 5 signs that might mean you’re overfeeding your kids.
1. Your child’s plate is the same size as your plate
My kids eat a healthy diet, but although I try to be mindful of portion sizes, there are many times that I think they eat too much.
I have to remind myself that that kids aren’t adults.
Kids have smaller stomachs and their nutritional needs can be met with much smaller portions than you’d expect.
Instead of using large dinner-sized plates to serve your child’s meals, use kid-sized plates or appetizer plates to keep portion sizes at bay.
2. Your kid is always in the bathroom
My daughter loves to eat fruit, which isn’t a bad thing of course, but when she eats too much sometimes it lands her in the bathroom with a stomachache.
This was true for me as a kid too, although it was usually Sunday dinner (French toast, pasta, meatballs, coffee cake, etc.) that did it.
If you notice your kid is constantly in the bathroom, or he complains of stomachaches, it could mean he’s eating too much.
3. You’re overfeeding your kids if there’s food left behind
If your kid is a picky eater, chances are you’re always worried if he’s eating enough.
Although your expectation is that he at least try everything, and at most eat everything you serve, it’s not always going to be the case—if at all.
According to Ellyn Satter, an authority on eating and feeding, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide the what, when and where of feeding, and the child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat.
Kids shouldn’t be expected to eat everything on their plates.
Instead of encouraging your kids, “take 3 more bites,” or setting a rule that they have to clean their plates before dessert or before being excused from the table, let them decide when they’ve had enough.
Give your kids plenty of opportunities to explore, taste, touch and smell food, and
time to develop their food preferences and learn what it feels like to be hungry and satisfied.
4. Your kid loves snacks
Another sign you’re overfeeding your kids is that they’re eating too many snacks.
According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers and candy.
What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.
Filling up on processed, packaged snacks in particular can crowd out calories and opportunities to serve up healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. The same goes for juice or too much milk.
Although there’s no hard and fast rule about how often kids should snack, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day—healthy snacks that give them the nutrition they need.
If you cut back on the amount of snacks but you still find that there is food left on your child’s plate, consider making snacks smaller, adjusting the time between meals and snacks, or eliminating snack all together.
5. Your kid’s clothes are getting small
When you have young kids, it’s amazing to see how fast they grow.
It seems one minute you buy a bunch of new clothes and the next, they’ve grown out of them.
If you notice that your kid’s clothes are getting small in a short amount of time, it might be that he’s eating too much.
If your child’s BMI is high however, or he’s suddenly gaining too much weight, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern because sometimes their height hasn’t yet caught up with their weight.
However, it’s always a good idea to bring it up with your child’s pediatrician who will chart his growth trends every year and make sure he’s growing taller and gaining weight at a consistent pace.
You might also consider speaking to a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) who can evaluate your child’s diet and help you with things like portion control, meal planning and recipes.