Parents want to feed their children healthy foods and often wonder how to do it.
Here are a few tips to feeding the young people in your life while encouraging a sane relationship with food.
Tip #1: Children LIKE Structure
Create Meal Times
Try to have meal times around the same time every day and to have one plated snack after school if necessary. Try as a family to stick to the structure 80% of the time. Ask your young people to be involved in making sure that the family sticks to the structure. One person can be in charge of knowing when it’s time to begin cooking; one person can be in charge of when it’s time to begin clean up … etc.
Create a monthly menu. For one month eat the same dish on every name day for a total of 7 day menus: MONDAYs = quinoa & lamb with zucchini onions & tomatoes, TUESDAYs = white bean soup with potatoes, carrots & green beans with Rye Bread etc. The dishes you choose should reflect what is available and in season: soups and stews in the fall, salads in the spring. Towards the end of the month have a family meeting to plan the next month. Older children can be in charge of planning one day. If you cover a variety of whole foods cooked and raw with different colors throughout the week you will be getting a variety of nutrients that your family needs.
The time spent planning meals is the perfect opportunity to educate children about where food comes from and how it can be prepared. It’s also a great time to talk about what junk processed non-food is and that most of the commercials they see for food are actually for junk.
Tip #2: Children will EAT what they NEED
One major worry in families is that the child isn’t eating enough, or will not eat what is given to them. This can be distressing for adults because adults feel it is there duty to feed the children well. While this concern is well meaning, if focused on, it can lead to upset and power struggles around food.
It is important to allow food to be pleasurable and emotionally neutral.
If a child does not want to eat something, do not force her. Forcing a young person to eat is disrespectful to them and will create a slew of emotional and control issues around food. Just don’t go there! It is best to feign indifference about what your young person is or is not eating on her plate during mealtime. The important thing is that what ends up on the plate is full of variety and color, is fresh, naturally grown, and is whole.
What is served IS dinner. Translation: special meals for one person do not exist. If the young person doesn’t eat anything, remind them only once that this is their opportunity to eat dinner, and that the next meal is not until breakfast. If no food is consumed, give yourself a pep talk: “self, my child will not die of starvation by missing one meal”. To be sure, they will be very hungry for breakfast the next day! Try steel cut oats with organic cream and organic raisins and walnuts or a veggie, onion, organic cheese, farm raised egg omelet. In a rush? Hard boiled whole egg on buttered toast.
If a child typically eats everything but the broccoli, be sure to let her know that she does not have to eat it, but since it is part of the menu for that dinner it will be served on her plate. Remember, a child often has a healthier relationship with food than an adult. If they are not interested in a food, it is highly possible that they don’t need it at that time. Sometimes when children are going through a growth spurt they will want high-fat, high-calorie food. There is a reason that potatoes and cheese, or macaroni and cheese are popular kids’ food. Growing children are developing rapidly and require different foods as compared to adults. Broccoli may be high in vitamins, but it is also high in fiber which makes it more difficult to digest, and it is low in calories. To a growing child it will be better sold with olive oil, butter or cheese*. Another benefit of adding fat with vegetables is that it allows us to assimilate the fat soluble vitamins.
If a child doesn’t want to try a new food give her time to get acquainted. It might take several meal for her to try it. And then, even after trying it might take time to like it. Even if on first try we don’t like the taste of a food, it often happens that the body will crave it even though we think we don’t like it. Just keep serving the new food, and keep feigning indifference about whether or not they eat it. Meal time is really not the best time for health education. Meals are best spent enjoying flavors, the company of our loved ones, and being grateful for both.
Tip #3: Nourishing with Hugs, Laughter, Encouragement & Honesty
There is so much more to being nourished than calories & nutrients. Affection, encouragement and praise are vital to nourishing another being. When we experience love from those important people in our life we are happier, more optimistic and everything seems to works better. A young person who is nourished in this way grows up with a world view that they are valuable and lovable.
At the same time, it is important to be honest with a child about what is expected of them. It is okay to let a child know when they have made a mistake. But it is important to not withhold hugs and encouragement from children who have made a mistake. The two are separate.
Again, children like structure which includes clear expectations. It is important to take responsibility as the adult for communicating clearly all that is expected. Remember, if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.
For example, a child who has developed a habit of whining and crying during mealtime would need to be prepped before the next meal time with clear expectations. “Mealtime is a peaceful pleasant time for the family to have a nice time together eating. I expect you at dinner tonight to use your big girl voice and for your eyes to remain dry. If you can do this then after dinner we can put on your favorite song and have a dance party together. If you don’t, you will have to sit on time-out for (age) minutes.” Right before mealtime, remind your young person of the expectation, and then stick with it. Stay calm, but firm, and emotionally neutral. Either way, after the time-out or the dance party, give the child love and encouragement. Remember, love is not a reward, it is a given.
A child that is held accountable to clear boundaries while being loved up will grow up to be able to handle criticism and will develop the ability to self correct. She will be light enough to laugh at herself and honest enough to improve herself. It is understanding that even if she makes mistakes she will still be loved that allows her to weather the bumps of life with ease. She will be willing to try new things and put herself out in the world because she knows that success or failure does not make or break who she is.
Lots of Love,
*Note: Buy the highest quality food that you can afford, and feel good knowing that this is the most important purchase you make. The simplest way is to shop at a natural foods market on the perimeter of the store. While there, ask questions to find out where the food comes from and how it was grown and then choose as close to naturally raised as possible. When adding fat or cheese to a meal, be sure to get cold pressed organic olive oil and/or grass fed/pasture raised dairy products. Industrialized food is composed differently. Industrial butter has lower amounts of vitamin D and A because the cows don’t see sun and don’t feed on pasture and also contains antibiotics. Another example is that farm raised salmon is lower in omega 3 and higher in omega 6 than wild salmon. So, farm raised salmon does not have the same benefit as wild.