by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
Everyone’s got something to say about raising healthy eaters — and it usually comes down to food. But research shows that a variety of factors, not just what you feed, are needed to raise healthy children.
These 7 secrets will help broaden your view of feeding your family, increasing your chances of success.
1. Keep a “Long term” view: While every parent has the short term goals of feeding their kids, it’s best to always keep your eye on the long-term goal
- Watch feeding practices that have negative consequences in the long run — rewarding/bribing/getting kids to take X amount of bites.
- Raise kids who want to eat healthy, instead of feeling obligated to eat healthy.
- No tricks, but consistency and keeping meals pleasant — even when it’s hard.
2. Aim for balance, not diet perfection: The goal is to teach kids how to balance all foods in their diet, not just the healthy ones
- Nourishing foods (Low fat dairy, lean meats, fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats) In Between foods (juice, refined grains, higher fat meats) Fun Foods (sweet/fried foods).
- Give children choices, but not too many.
- Research shows exposure is the most important factor in getting children to eat a variety of food.
3. Use an authoritative feeding style: Research shows children eat better when parents aren’t too strict or lax — striking that middle ground
- Most closely mirrored with the Division of Responsibility of Feeding — parents decide the “what,” “when” and “where” of feeding and kids decide the “whether” and “how much” of eating.
- Use meal structure as your secret weapon!
- Be neutral about sweets — limit without making children feel deprived
4. Understand your child’s development stage: Gaining knowledge about WHY your child acts the way he or she does is empowering
- 2-6 years of age: picky eating is a normal part of development — growth slows and mental awareness increases
- 6-12 years of age: kids expand their palates, gain skills and self esteem and approach a major growth spurt.
- 13-18 years of age: Need to fit in socially — influenced by what other friends are eating
5. Teach kids how to eat the right amount of food for their bodies: Children are born with the natural ability to regulate food intake — preserve this!
- When a child is done, ask them if they are full. Research shows 85% of parents try to get kids to eat more at meal time.
- Teach size acceptance!
- Watch associations that can develop with eating — eat at the table, with structure and not when bored, in front of the TV or in the car (most of the time)
6. Maintain family meals: The family table is where connections are made and children learn how to eat
- Research shows kids who have regular family dinners eat better, have healthier weights, do better in school and are less likely to have behavior problems or issues with substance abuse
- Make the commitment.
- Plan meals a week in advance — keep it simple!
7. Teach kids how to cook: Send a child out into the world who knows how to prepare meals
- Bring toddlers/preschoolers in the kitchen early but don’t force it
- Make helping with meals part of school-age children’s routine
- Teenagers can prepare at least one dinner/lunch per week
Raise Healthy Eaters Resources — www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com:
- Infant/Toddler Feeding Guides
- Series: Meal Planning/Picky Eating/Eating Disorder Prevention/Kids’ Nutrition
- Expert Interviews — DHA, probiotics and obesity prevention
- No Whine with Dinner, Meal Makeover Moms
- Secrets to Feeding A Healthy Family, Ellyn Satter
- SOS! Six O’clock Scramble to the Rescue, Aviva Goldfarb