Listen to my podcast where I will discuss the importance of shaping your kids’ eating patterns:
WHO is in charge of what?
When it comes to healthy eating, childhood nutrition expert Ellyn Satter suggests the best way to set your kids up for healthy eating is to understand the division of responsibility for caregivers and kids. Parents should provide structure, support and opportunities. Children should choose how much and whether to eat from what the parents provide.
What this means is that from the time your kids are toddlers all the way through to a teenager, your job as a parent is to determine what, when and where to eat. Your children will be responsible for how much they will eat and whether they will eat at all. Once you accept this, feeding your family will become a whole lot easier.
How should parents handle sweets and treats with kids?
Recently my sister baked a fresh batch of cookies and four year old Matthew who doesn’t get treats every day was ecstatic to have such a decadent treat for his snack. He loved them so much that after lunch he was allowed to have one more cookie. My sister declined his polite request to have a third cookie and while she wasn’t looking little Matthew snuck a cookie under his chair. Christa firmly said no and that they would have some more cookies tomorrow even after the little negotiator asked “if I have fruit first then can I have another cookie?” While his question was valid, it brings up some important lessons when it comes to eating with young children.
My sister did the right thing in offering well balanced meals but still leaving room for some treats so her kids will learn to enjoy all foods and respect that there are no good and bad foods. She did however structure what would be offered and when. This made sure that Mathew didn’t fill up on too many cookies which may interfere with his ability to eat other meals or give him the idea that he could determine what to eat at meals and snacks.
Remember who is in charge. A four year old or even most teenagers do not have the wisdom to determine what to eat. They do however have exceptional intuitive insight into how much to eat when you offer them the food.
What else can parents do to help their kids become healthy eaters?
Your kids see everything, even when you think they are not watching. If you don’t want to eat veggies at supper or choose fruit as a healthy snack, why should they? If you skip breakfast yet tell them it is the most important meal of the day, can you see this disconnected mixed message?
Parents who model eating healthy foods as well as hold a philosophy that there are no good and bad foods set the stage for having kids with balanced eating habits. Preparing food together, sitting down for meals as a family, keeping physically active as a family and having a healthy attitude to your own body are some of the most important ways you can boost your child’s body image and overall health for life. If you are chronically dieting, have a poor relationship with food and unsatisfied with your body weight you are fooling yourself if you don’t think your kids pick up on this. It is your job as a parent if you are struggling with food, weight and body image to seek help so you don’t pass these issues on to your children.