Health & Fitness

To your health: Help children form healthy relationship with food

Give children control and let them play with their food. The more you expose children to different foods, the more willing they’ll be to try them.
Give children control and let them play with their food. The more you expose children to different foods, the more willing they’ll be to try them. TNS

We feed children to nourish them and as an act of bonding.

But it’s important to distinguish between your responsibility as the provider of food and the child’s responsibility as the eater of the food, and to help them form a healthy, normal relationship with food.

Food should be fun and satisfying, not used as a reward or punishment. And eating shouldn’t be a battle of wills. Generally speaking, children will eat if they’re hungry and that hunger will vary.

Infants and young children have small stomachs and need to be fed small amounts throughout the day. It doesn’t always have to be a hot, full-course meal.

Most meals should include a small portion of protein, some carbohydrate from fruit or whole grains, and a vegetable or two. Snacks may be just one or two of these components. It could be whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a glass of milk or maybe an egg and some fruit for breakfast; a piece of chicken, some carrot sticks and some grapes would work for a quick lunch. Dinner may be a taco and salad or soup and sandwich. Snacks such as celery with peanut butter or cheese and crackers are quick and easy.

Everyone’s taste buds change over time, making it a challenge to find foods everyone likes.

Focus on finding some common foods children can customize, or have things like yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, low sodium deli meat or cheese available so they can help themselves to something else if they don’t want what you’ve prepared. You’re not a short-order cook and should avoid making different meals for everyone.

Mealtime tips

▪ Have a “baked potato bar” with chili, broccoli, cheese and salsa set out so they can add what they like, or make individual pizzas using tortillas or English muffins and have children add their own toppings.

▪ Give them control and let them play with their food. The more you expose children to different foods, the more willing they’ll be to try them.

▪ Make meal time “quiet time.” Turn off the TV, put away electronic devices and talk about the food.

▪ Ask children to describe how food tastes to them. What do they think about the colors? What does it feel like to chew that food?

▪ Ask them to taste just one bite of a food if it’s something new. If they don’t like it, let them know that may change when they get their “adult taste buds.”

Shelly Wegman is a registered dietitian at Rex Wellness Centers in Raleigh and Garner. Email: shelly.wegman@unchealth.unc.edu

Resources

▪ USDA’s “What’s on Your Plate?” – choosemyplate.gov

▪ National Institutes of Health’s “We Can” – nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan

▪ Ellyn Satter and Associates – ellynsatterinstitute.org

▪ The Family Dinner Project – thefamilydinnerproject.org

▪ The Center for Mindful Eating – thecenterformindfuleating.org

▪ Super Kids Nutrition – superkidsnutrition.com

▪ Mindful Eating for Kids – mindfuleatingforkids.com

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