Meal Wars: The Struggle of Healthy Eating, Part 1

It is not uncommon for parents to wonder if they are doing the right by their child.  Am I going to breastfeed my child?  Should I use cloth or disposable diapers?  Is he watching too much TV?  How often should my child eat?  While most parents can answer most of these questions for themselves, I can definitely help answer the last one.

In a five part series, I will address some common eating problems parents might have with their kids and some possible  solutions.  Parents need to understand their role when it comes to feeding their child.  First, parents need to plan for the W’s – the what, where, and when food will be served.  You are responsible for setting the time schedule, the menu, and the environment for your child.  Secondly, parents need to prepare healthy options for meals and snacks.  Are you going to offer apple slices or cookies?  Are you going to offer juice or water?  You may know the “healthy” answer to these questions, but do you follow through with it? Lastly, parents need to provide a positive environment for your child to eat.  Are you always eating on the go?  Do you (and your children) eat in front of the TV?

So, now you might be wondering does the child have any responsibilities during mealtime? Absolutely!  First, the child is going to decide whether or not to eat.  This is soooo tough for parents, including myself!  But ultimately your child decides on whether they should eat – not you.  Secondly, the child chooses what to eat, from a variety of healthy food options (that you provide).  Lastly, your child will choose how much to eat during scheduled meals and snack times (that you provide). Do you see a trend?

Now that we know what our responsibilities are, let’s talk about the child who refuses to eat.  Believe it or not, this happens to represent my child.  First thing, stay calm!  Acting worried or annoyed gives your child the power.  It’s normal to have children go on food strikes for a day or two.  (But if it is longer than a few days, talk to your doctor to be sure your child is not ill.) Next, ask yourself to see if your child is filling up on too many snacks during the day.  Make sure your mealtimes are relaxed and pleasant.  Keep serving nutritious meals and snacks on a regular schedule.  You would be surprised about how frequently parents offer their child a snack (cereal and milk, anyone?) before bedtime because they feel guilty about their child not eating dinner.  You know who you are!  You now just gave your child the power to not eat their meal, set their own schedule for their mealtimes, and decide the menu. Isn’t that your responsibility?   (Yes, it is.)  Next, when serving the meal, make sure it is in bite-size pieces for the child.  They would much rather eat apple slices than a whole apple; I know I would.  Take notes from McDonald’s.  They offer apple slices with their kid meals.  (By the way, this will be the ONLY time you hear me praise a fast food restaurant).  Lastly, when offering new foods for the child, offer a favorite food with it. For example, they don’t like tuna casserole, but your child likes raw carrots.  Then offer raw carrots with dip with the meal so they have something to eat at the meal.

Next time, I will discuss what to do with the child who refuses healthy food. Remember, you provide the meal, the schedule, and the environment. Your child chooses whether or not to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat.

About Sharon M., MS RD

As a registered dietitian and a master gardener, I know the healing power of food. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than growing my own food. I have experience working in the public health field, including school districts. I have worked with pregnant moms, children, diabetics, and bariatric patients. I emphasis a plant-based, whole food diet. Yet, I appreciate the movement of eating sustainably, while hoping folks appreciate the bean as a source of protein. "To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld "Feeding is going well if both you and yor child are having a good time." -Ellyn Satter
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