Rule #1 Make Every Bite Count!
Everything your child eats should be nutritious. Children can be picky and inconsistent, so make sure that what they do eat is really good for them. That way if they end up having two bites of potato for dinner, you can be confident that they at least had a great lunch, snack, etc.
“Where’s the fun?” you ask. There is not much room in that little tummy, think carefully before filling it with junk. And ask yourself why you are offering chocolate bars or cookies at snack time. It is often the parent/caregiver who is deriving pleasure from seeing children gleefully down a non-nutritious treat. Your child can derive smiles and joy from many other places – it doesn’t have to be junk food.
Rule #2 Ban the word “dessert” from your food-vocabulary, and use “treat” carefully.
Make desserts healthy(not just fun) so that things like fruit, nuts, and yogurt become part of the meal, not the reward for finishing it. All good foods can be treats, but we often think of only junk as such – so use the word judiciously.
By isolating foods under these categories, you may negate their nutritional value to your child if you are following Rule #1. Again it is usually a caregiver that delights in serving a “dessert’ or “treat” more than the two-year-old who probably wouldn’t care otherwise if they’ve never had triple chocolate cake with whipped cream.
Rule #3 Be persistent, not insistent.
It may take a child a while to warm up to a new food. Just introduce foods gently time and time again until they try it. Never insist that they try something they don’t want to, and certainly never insist that they finish their plate. Mealtime should not be battletime. They will eat if they need to.
If you begin a power struggle over meals, you risk it becoming long-term. The point is to get them to eat healthfully, not develop an association between food and control. This is one reason why developing healthy eating habits early on is so important.
Rule # 4 Break the rules our parents taught us.
Many of us can remember moms putting food on our plates and expecting us to eat it – or not. There were few struggles back then because children quickly learned that if they didn’t eat what was served to them, they would go hungry. And after a few nights of sitting at the table by themselves until they finished their peas, they learned to eat them without protest.
We now know how destructive this can be. Many adult eating disorders began in childhood, and many sufferers can remember these episodes at the dinner table as a child.
Respecting that your child’s tastebuds and moods are as different from yours as is your spouse’s, or your neighbour’s means learning to break the rules of the “family meal” from time to time.
Let your child have a “creative” meal made up of healthy foods they like, while the rest of the family has their casserole, curry, or stirfry. So long as it is healthy, and doesn’t happen every night of the week, letting a child choose their own meals usually won’t create the problems our parents thought it would. It will more likely foster a respect for healthy eating rather than an unhealthy association with mealtime.
Rule # 5 Everyone Needs Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many, if not all, children.
Missing breakfast can set the tone for their entire day and create a downward spiral of too tired to eat vs. too hungry to nap… and so on. What adult doesn’t love to have a hungry and tired child on their hands?
Many studies, and many caregivers, will attest to the fact that a good breakfast helps children function better mentally. While most studies lean toward school age children, this fact should be applied to babies and toddlers as well.
Many signs of the stereotypic “terrible-two” year-old is often hunger. Breakfast should contain some protein for lasting energy, helping to offset the midmorning meltdown. Prevention is the key because a miserable child often won’t eat, and you won’t obtain your objective of feeding them well.
Rule # 6 Learn from your child
Our children know best more often than we give them credit for. Some tummies are really good at letting their owners know when to eat, and how much to eat. Let children learn how to listen to their bodies – many adults have forgotten. Children never fit into one mold, and another person’s rules (such as the preceding 5) usually need to be modified to fit your family. Learn to follow your child’s rules from time to time… they may surprise you.
Stacelynn Caughlan is a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Herbalist who specializes in Prenatal and Pediatric Health.