For many parents, raising a child to a be healthy eater can be stressful and challenging. While the recommendations may be simple and straightforward, they can be tough to apply or even remember when a full-on tantrum is happening. As you read this, first figure out what you and your partner’s parental feeding styles are. They may not be the same – and that’s ok – as long as you present a cohesive front to the kids.
Then, use the guidelines as your mantra, your fallback, and revert back to them as often as you can. Perhaps most importantly, always do the best you can and remember that it won’t always be sunshine and rainbows (chances are if you have kids you probably already know that!). The below comes from a lecture I had in graduate school and a book we were assigned to read – “Fearless Feeding” by Jill Castle – and stems from brilliant research completed in the 1920’s by pediatrician Clara Davis. It still ranks up there as one of the most interesting talks and effective books I’ve read, and I still gift it to friends who are new parents and love me enough to know I’m not trying to insult them.
Here are the three feeding styles Castle identifies:
This style focuses on what the parent thinks is best with little regard for what the child may want or need. This is often associated with “clean your plate” language and making dessert a treat when the child finishes dinner. This style can lead children to lose the ability know when and if they’re hungry leading to overeating at meals. Conversely, children may also refuse to eat or eat less due to the pressure from the parent.
This style centers on parents who provide little structure or guidelines for kids. They are often the “Yes” parent. This style can result in children who eat little nutrient dense foods and a lot of calorically dense less healthful foods resulting in struggles with weight in their youth and adulthood.
This style emphasizes parents who set boundaries and limits around foods and mealtime, while maintaining a loving tone. This style is most effective for preventing childhood obesity. It's important to remember that as the parents, you decide what's being served, when it's being served, and where it's being served. Your child's responsibility is to decide how much they want to serve, if they want any at all. No matter what you identify as your feeding style, this is a crucial boundary to establish when developing this relationship with your children.
Below are more of my favorite tips and tricks for raising healthy eaters There shouldn’t be a kid’s meal and an adult’s meal – the entire family should be served the same choices. This helps establish good habits from a young age. You can’t expect your kids to eat their vegetables if you don’t eat them too!
Eat as a Family: Make mealtime a moment to connect with your kids.
Stick to a Schedule: Create a meal structure so kids know when their next meal is. This can help them structure their day and mentally plan as well.
Keep Familiar Foods Around: Serve at least one food you know the kids enjoy and will eat. Be Adventurous: Introduce new foods…or old foods cooked new ways!
Let them Cook: Include kids in cooking process – it helps give them a sense of ownership over what they eat and makes them feel more involved.
Don't Avoid Dessert: Don’t make it a treat or something that has to be earned (e.g. you get your brownie when you finish your broccoli) – but dessert should sometimes be a cookie or slice of cake and sometimes be sliced fruit or yogurt with honey.
Don't be Afraid to Close the Kitchen: Since kids decide how much, if they want any at all – sometimes they’ll choose nothing, but then run to the kitchen shortly after mealtime to grab a snack because they’re hungry. Implementing a kitchen is closed rule, sets boundaries and structure, so they know if they choose not to eat a meal, then they need to wait until snack time.
Try New Foods: Encourage (highly, but not forcefully) kids to have a taste of each food on the table. This doesn’t have to be a bite. As little as touching the food to their lips can be enough for them to experience the taste and that’s what matters.
It's important for parents and kids alike to remember that eating right and moving our bodies can be fun!