I have a close friend whose baby loved to eat. Sarah1 was just under a year old, and would sit at the table and eat a full plate of food: Thai food, Chinese, Indian, you name it. Sarah would feed herself with her hands, delighted to be taking part in the meal with her family.

One day my friend took her baby to the pediatrician, and was informed that her baby’s weight was spiking off her percentile curve. The doctor suggested that my friend begin to moderate Sarah’s food portions, and not give her any chips, crackers, cookies or pretzels.

This was no small task. Her baby’s weight was spikingEvery time my friend went to the park with her daughter, she had to guard Sarah from seeing any snack foods. Family meals turned into a battleground.

Then my friend started reading about new nutrition methods that were opposed to restraining a child’s eating. She decided to take the plunge, feeling that she had nothing to lose. She stopped restraining Sarah’s portion sizes, and started serving scheduled meals and snacks that were balanced with carbohydrates, protein and fat. My friend followed the Division of Responsibility in Feeding2 method, which she had learned from her reading. My friend took responsibility for the what, when and where of feeding her daughter. Her daughter was responsible for how much and whether or not she ate.

At first Sarah would hoard previously forbidden foods, but mealtimes slowly became more pleasant. After about four months, Sarah calmed down when she realized that she no longer had to fight for what she wanted to eat. The focus at mealtimes shifted away from Sarah and to other topics.

My friend’s daughter is still chubby, but she is definitely slimming down as she grows taller.

Some doctors and nutritionists feel that restraining a baby’s eating is not the way to go. They believe that we should provide a child with a variety of nutritious and appealing foods, and then let the child decide what and how much to eat based on internal regulators of hunger, appetite and satisfaction.3 This way of thinking says that restraining your children’s eating can have negative side effects. As my teacher, Pam Estes, M.S., R.D., C.D., commented: “Restrained children become food-preoccupied and prone to overeat every chance they get. The fear of being hungry drives their eating.”

There is a beautiful metaphor that I learned from my teacher, Rabbi Nivin, which helps explain this nutritional theory. He explains that our physical and spiritual makeup can be compared to a horse and rider. The horse represents our bodily desires; as the rider, it is our responsibility to tame those bodily desires so that the horse and rider can move in unison. How does one go about training a horse? By building a trusting relationship with the horse over time, with patience and love. Then, slowly, you can begin to put on the halter, bridle and saddle.

While it is clearly important to set limits for our It’s important to build our children’s trustchildren, it is also important to build our children’s trust. This principle extends to feeding as well. Especially when they are very young, our children need to know that we are going to provide them with consistent and nutritious meals and snacks. Over time, we can start to explain the nutritional qualities of different types of food, and set more limits.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t want our children to eat, let’s focus on what our children can eat, and try to present the food in an appealing way. Children eat poorly when parents cross the lines and try to force their children to eat certain types of food or certain amounts of food. And studies have shown that 75 percent of overweight infants and toddlers slim down on their own.4 Children definitely need limits and boundaries around food, but it is important to know that they also do an excellent job at regulating their own food intake.