Am I feeding my kids enough? Parental food anxiety is real.

After graduating from bottles to solid food, so many new fears come out around feeding children. Bottles allow easy measurement of the amount of food so it’s fairly easy to know if kids are getting enough. Once the real food starts, measuring the amount is just the tip of the iceberg. From worrying about nutrition to allergies and anxiety about refusing food, it gets so much harder for parents. On the bright side, watching kids chomp down on home-made food and appreciating the effort parents put into it is incredibly rewarding.


Wise parents know that parenting never gets easier, the hard parts just change. Teething turns to frustration with being unable to speak, which then becomes tantrums. Similarly, with eating, challenges with bottle feeding just change to anxieties about solid foods. It doesn’t get easier, just different.


I thought bottle feeding was as hard as it would get. With twins in daycare, I had to wash what seemed like a dozen bottles every night, each with six different pieces. After a night in the NICU because one of our boys wasn’t getting enough nutrients, I was constantly worried about how much food the boys were getting. As a result, I measured the amount at every feeding. At least with bottles, we knew they were getting the right mix of nutrition.


At first, mixing solid food with bottles is a good way to make sure they still get enough healthy food on a daily basis while expanding the palate. Even still, the worries come quickly. What kind of food to give children is the first concern. Building up a taste for healthy food and staying away from sweet and fatty food is important in building healthy eating habits later in life. Experimenting with different types of food and especially different textures helps prevent aversions to certain foods and refusal to eat later on.


A huge issue today is children developing food allergies. While many are genetic, the cause of others isn’t as well known. Compounding the anxiety parents feel is worry about whether or not to give them good associated with allergies like peanuts. Half the research seems to show that giving them nuts early can help prevent allergies and the other half says it’s more likely to cause it. What are parents to do?


Another concern once kids start picking up solid food is whether or not to actually let them pick it up. It’s tempting to let them feed themselves, after all it develops motor skills, builds independence, and might even let a parent get a five minute break. But letting kids feed themselves can result in negative behaviors too such as throwing, refusing food, and not getting enough. So many parents turn to feeding kids themselves, maintaining more control over the situation.


Once kids get older though, they will have to learn to feed themselves. At some point they need to learn how to use utensils. When is the right time to start letting them use a spoon? Giving it to them too early is a recipe for messy meals and wasted food, meaning they might not get enough. They might also learn to play with their food instead of eating it. An option is to let them practice holding a spoon and even using it at the end of a meal, once they’ve definitely had enough, just to let them practice when the risk of not eating enough has passed.


Going from bottles to real food involves a transition from feedings every couple of hours to meals only a few times a day. However, that transition can take a long time and if not controlled, result in constant snacking rather than set meals. A regular schedule, especially for food, is key to good behavior and stability for kids. Random snacks can completely disrupt that and result in poor nutrition and bad eating habits even as adults.


The problem with getting to regular meals rather than snacks is that kids don’t tend to fill up or be able to wait between meals. Food is often used by parents as a motivator or reward, leading to frequent snacks and messing with meal regularity. But, getting on a regular schedule with meals and sticking to that schedule is the key to building the right eating habits for life.


Whether snacking or for a full meal, a major concern for parents is choking. Kids seem to forget to chew fairly often and end up hacking way more than is comfortable. Parents should get familiar with basic skills like the infant Heimlich maneuver and child CPR. The first time a cheerio comes flying out of a child’s mouth after gagging, it’s completely worth it.


Now, back to the original problem. How can parents know if they are giving their kid enough food when it cannot be measured in ML or OZ. Some parents might actually go about measuring or weighing all of the food they feed their kids. For parents without that much time on their hands, there’s an easier method. Kids eat what they need to eat. Worrying about the exact amount for every feeding just causes more anxiety which parents don’t need. Kids tend to eat what they need, no more, and will absolutely let parents know when they are hungry. With all of the other challenges and difficulties with feeding kids, this is one area not to worry too much.


Of course, parents need to make sure their kids aren’t starving or overeating, developing eating issues that grow over time. However, measure the exact number of ounces of food in a day isn’t necessary. Just like many adults find measuring food by coarser measurements like handfuls rather than exact sizes, techniques like this can be used for kids’ food as well. Amounts tend to average out and frequent doctor visits ensure everything is going ok. Amounts and habits can be adjusted if issues are found then.


The transition from bottles to solid food can be quite harrowing for parents. There are numerous challenges that arise with real food parents need to worry about to ensure the health and safety of their children. Bottles aren’t easy by any means, but like so much with raising kids, the challenges that come after make the previous stage seem quaint and easy by comparison. I was promised that with kids, I’d get more food as I could finish whatever they had, but it turns out more often they steal my food. Things don’t always turn out the way they are expected, but the journey is always interesting. It doesn’t necessarily get harder, it just gets hard in different ways, seemingly as soon as there is time to get used to the last challenge.


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