What is healthy nutrition for kids?
This week Averie was fitted for her first ever ballet costume (super cute). Light beams in the form of smiles radiated from her face. The girl thinks she is a professional dancer now after just a few lessons. I love her confidence.
I have to admit I was more than a little nervous when she wanted to do dance because of the emphasis on appearance. Back to the fitting…so, she’s getting fitted when the instructor very politely told me about her “girth” size. My heart sank. Her
girth tummy is apparently larger than other girls in the class. Panic set in. My panic? That somehow I am doing something wrong with her nutrition. I began second guessing myself…have you done this too? Begin to ask questions like, “how much should I be feeling my child”? Or, “what do I do with a picky eater”. Nothing unnerves a parent more than a child who is eating too much or too little.
Recently, I sat down with Meagan Rothschild who is a Registered Dietician in Dallas. I asked her a few questions about nutrition for kids…when it doubt, go to the experts.
How can I teach my kids about balanced nutrition versus good and bad foods?
In our culture, “nutrition” is now thought of in terms of what we should or shouldn’t eat, which is unfortunate because it can be so much more fun than that, as it should be for kids! When we categorize food in black and white terms, such as good and bad, we teach kids that there is no gray area when it comes to nutrition, which may result in an eating environment that is not conducive to balanced behaviors in adulthood.
Unless your child has a food related health issue, it isn’t necessary to go into great detail when discussing nutrition. Keep the focus on how food works in the body, not how many calories or grams of fat it contains. Most kids understand that food is fuel for our bodies in the same way that gasoline is fuel for our cars. They also understand the concept of “often” and “sometimes” foods as opposed to “good” and “bad.” Reframing the focus on what to eat, not what NOT to eat, can really strengthen a child’s relationship with food.
Each household has different views about what they like to keep in their pantry, but I recommend that families have fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy available to their kids “often.” In my opinion, “sometimes” foods should be present in the home as well, just served less frequently as these are what I consider to be the fun foods! Just as important, just not as necessary on a daily basis.
How can parents model/teach balanced nutrition?
Several ways, but bottom line is this: the way you eat and the way you speak about food as a parent and role model affects the way your child will eat and think about food as an adult.
Be flexible: Include a wide range of foods into your diet and avoid picky eating or restricting food of any kind
Eat regularly: Establish meal and snack times in your home and avoid going more than 4 hours without a meal or a snack.
Watch your mouth: Avoid discussing food in a negative way in front of kids. Make your home a dieting, weight loss, and fat talk free zone.
Listen to your body: Be aware of your body’s hunger and fullness cues and use them as a guide for nourishing your body. Avoid eating in front of the TV or while engaging in other mindless activities that can distract you from listening to your body’s natural cues.
How can I teach my kids to listen to their hunger cues?
Generally speaking, kids listen to their bodies much better than adults do. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. When it becomes more complicated than that, it can be helpful to have a discussion with your child about what hunger means and how food should feel in our bodies. Explaining this in terms of a scale using their own feelings of hunger and fullness can be helpful in determining when it’s time to eat. For example, a 1 on the scale might be “Starving”, and a 10 might be “Stuffed.” Explain the importance of not allowing your body to get too hungry or too full, and over time you will find a place on the scale that works well for your child’s needs.
How do I get my picky eater to try more foods?
Picky eating is a very situational issue, so here are a few of my general tips for encouraging a varied diet:
Introduce the food when your child is hungry along with items they are already comfortable with
Be persistent, not pushy, and continue to include different foods on your child’s plate
Be creative with presentation and preparation
Involve kids in the preparation of food
Make meal times a pleasant, stress free environment
Don’t force feed or shame kids into eating things they do not want to eat
As parents, we experience moments of panic like I did in the dance studio. Don’t second guess yourself, which easily turns into blame and shame! Instead, seek out knowledge and facts. I hope you have learned as much as I did through this post.
Meagan Rothschild is a Registered Dietitian specializing in nutrition therapy for disordered eating behaviors. At her private practice, Meagan works with children, teens, adults and families to develop realistic, individualized plans for overcoming challenging relationships with food and body image. If you would like to learn more about Meagan, or schedule an appointment email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (817) 832-4599.