Are You Making Your Child An Emotional Eater?


After having two fairly good eaters, I struggle with my third child who has always been a bit fussier.

What I consider a “grazer” by nature, she is constantly demanding snacks but getting through dinner is a challenge.  I acquiesce to many of her snack demands as I figure it is good as long as she’s eating something.

However Accredited Practising Dietitian & Accredited Nutritionist, Deb Blakley, challenges the concept of children who are born grazers and suggests that this is probably more of a learned habit than a natural tendency.

We want our kids to be mindful and intuitive eaters… but kids also need structure,” Deb Blakley explains.

Obviously, it is our role as parents to provide that structure.

While there are regular mealtimes in our house, I can see how I have dropped the ball with enforcing these with Miss 4.  The last few of years have been a bit hectic and we are often in a state of flux, meaning that when it comes to food and a demanding toddler-turned-preschooler I have often taken the path of least resistance.

Unfortunately, this has probably also created some emotional eating patterns in my daughter.

Deb says parents can unwittingly foster emotional eating in our children by doing things like:

  • Using food to occupy kids
  • Using food as a reward or treat
  • Using food to soothe when kids are experiencing big emotions
  • Labelling foods “good” or “bad”

Of course, these are things we all do from time to time but Deb emphasises that when food becomes part of our parenting strategy we are getting into dangerous territory.

As an emotional eater myself, I know the pitfalls and certainly don’t want to encourage these tendencies in my kids.

Thankfully it is never too late to encourage healthy eating patterns and Deb recommends parents do the following:

  • Offer limited choices rather than asking, “What do you want to eat?”
  • Stick to regular snack and meal times
  • Try to be prepared ahead of time so you have acceptable options available for your child
  • Disconnect food from emotions
  • Use descriptive words for food such as juicy, fresh, tasty, rather than good or bad.

As with all things that are good for us, most of this is common sense. It is just so easy to fall into bad habits, especially when we are in the trenches of parenting.

However, it is important to remember that the food habits we establish in our children now are likely to stick with them through life. So there is no time like the present to make a fresh start when it comes to encouraging healthy eating!

Is your child a grazer?

Do you have a pattern of emotional eating that you fear you will pass on to your kids?

 To hear more from Deb Blakley on the topic of good nutrition for kids, check out ParentTV.



About Author

Renee Meier

Renée is a freelance writer, perpetual student and aspiring novelist. In her spare time she's the sole parent to 3 rambunctious little people. She survives predominantly on coffee and squishy hugs.

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