No, it’s not the ability to properly hold a knife and fork; or to know which spoon to use; or to know how to fold a napkin into a swan.
People who are competent eaters have positive attitudes about eating. They enjoy food. They are confident that they will have enough food to eat and they trust their bodies’ internal regulators to signal when they are hungry and when they are full.
Children move toward eating competence as they learn to acknowledge their own internal cues. Development of eating competence – or the lack of – begins in infancy and continues through life.
To become more of a competent eater, take the time to eat and enjoy your food. Stay focused on what you’re eating. That is, don’t mindlessly eat in front of the television or while reading the newspaper. Provide meals and snacks at regular times each day – your body and likewise, your family, will learn to trust that the next opportunity to eat will come in time to prevent worry (stress) about food’s availability.
Stress can cause overeating and other non-competent eating tendencies. If you are a competent eater, you have a positive attitude about eating and food. Food is not punishment or reward. It’s to be enjoyed at meal and snack time.
To help develop eating competence, plan for variety in the foods you eat – try some new foods, or serve foods in a different way. Pay attention to when you are hungry and when you are full. Eat until you are satisfied and then stop eating. If your meals and snacks are at regular times each day, you know you’ll get something else to eat at the next meal or snack time.