Hi everyone – while I am traveling overseas for my day job, I have some guest posters stopping by to introduce themselves. Next up is Brad from Fooduciary with some tips for you on how to raise a healthy eater. Brad also hails from Austin, TX!
7 Mistakes Parents Make to Raising Healthy Eaters
It’s natural for any parent to worry about what your children are eating. You might have a good idea of what your kids are eating at home, then lose control as they step out of the house and go to school or to visit friends. It doesn’t matter if your children are under or overweight or just fine. You still worry.
As you’re doing your best to ensure your children get the proper nutrition, keep in mind these seven mistakes that parents commonly make and how to avoid them.
1 – Making Kids Eat Everything on Their Plate
We’re born with the natural ability to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full following natural internal signals from our body. This ability, very handy throughout life, can be lost when children are encouraged to eat past the point when their body is signaling to stop. Encouraging your kids to listen to their internal hunger and fullness cues will help them have a healthy relationship with food and avoid overeating later on.
Despite these natural cues, studies have shown that regardless of age, children eat more when served larger portions, regardless of how hungry they are.
To avoid this mistake:
- Don’t encourage or reward your children for cleaning their plate.
- Start with small portions, encourage them to eat until they feel comfortable, then allow additional servings if requested.
2 – Making Treats the Prize
If you’ve ever resorted to, “Eat your peas and you can have a piece of cake,” you’re not alone. Getting children to eat vegetables can be challenging, but studies show that preference for foods decreases when kids are rewarded for eating them. This approach is teaching kids that vegetables are to be barely tolerated and that sweets are the prize, valued over healthier foods.
To avoid this one, don’t tie dessert into the dinner conversation. Don’t make it the prize at the end of the challenge.
3 – Not Allowing Any Sweets
In light of the dangers of childhood obesity and the role of sugar, many parents go to the other extreme and ban all sweets. There’s certainly nothing wrong with controlling the amount of sweets kids have access to, but a moderate approach is best. Research done at Penn State showed that kids restricted from eating snack foods showed an increased desire to eat those snacks, and they’re likely to overeat at any chance they get. Allowing a fun snack in their lunch or a treat at dinner is okay. Simply try to control what you can and allow some reasonable independence with dessert choices.
A couple of cookies or a single brownie is a good limit. That said, as we always encourage, read ingredient labels and choose wisely to avoid unnecessary additives. It’s possible to sneak in a bit of healthy with the sugar sometimes. Ice cream – add some fruit. Cookies dunk well in milk kefir. You get the idea.
So, control what you can, allow some reasonable freedom of choice (a great opportunity to educate about ingredients), and relax.
4 – Letting the Little Kids Eat Like the Big Kids
Not surprisingly, children with older siblings are more likely to eat junk food than those without older siblings. The older siblings request a soda, or some chips, or cookies, or candy, or whatever, so the little boys and girls are generally exposed to those things much earlier than the oldest child. Think of how diligent new parents are about what their first child eats. There was no junk food for baby! Even though challenging, it’s best to continue the age-based food restrictions for all the kids, not just the oldest.
How? Allow the older kids to have their snacks when the youngest ones aren’t around. Send their snacks with them to school, or maybe while the young ones are taking a bath or even after they go to bed at night. But, you already know, there’s never an age where soda and artificial ingredients are ok.
5 – Snack Overload
Ok, the occasional snack is ok, but constant snacking leads to skipping proper meals. And if they’re never truly hungry, they’ll put up more of a challenge when presented with new foods at meals, like those vegetables.
So, try this: Do your best to stick to a consistent snack and meal routine, allowing at least two hours between snacks and meals. No more than two snacks a day and keep them small.
6 – Introducing Liquid Calories Early
Kids average daily consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, as well as fruit juice, is 270 calories. This represents 10 to 15 percent of their totally daily calorie intake. Think of that. 15 percent of their calories from sugar! Sadly, this continues to rise. Even though these drinks are very calorie dense, the lack of nutrition does not trigger the same satiety signals that solid foods do. With no signal of feeling full from drinking lots of soda or juice, your kids won’t intuitively compensate for the extra calories gulped down, which leads to weight gain in the long term.
What to do? Don’t introduce young kids to sugary, calorie dense drinks at a young age. Don’t have sodas, flavored waters, or juice drinks in the home. Limit beverage choices to water (sparkling is ok), and diluted 100-percent juice on occasion. And remember, they’re watching you. Set a good example by not drinking the sugar drinks either.
7 – Eating the Same Way You Did Before Having Kids
As you’ve grown older and wiser about what to eat you’ve grown to be happy with a simple dinner of meat, salad, and vegetables. But more than likely your kids are going to think these foods are boring at best, gross at worst. Enticing your kids to eat healthy and even experiment with healthier foods may require a bit more creativity.
Adding a little pizzazz to your meals can be the trick that gets your kids hooked. Add flavorful condiments and sauces, or experiment with colors and shapes to put on a show.
For example, you might be fine with a plain baby carrot, but adding some flavorful hummus might be necessary to get younger ones interested. Top dinner plates with a favorite salsa or marinara sauce. Here’s another idea. Before baking a sweet potato, slice it into ¾ – 1 inch rounds. Use an animal shaped cookie cutter to create fun shapes. Lay the slices on a cookie sheet and bake. If you’re like me, you’ll be fine eating the trimmings. This also works with bell peppers, beets, and melons.
Or there’s the good ol’ standby: ants on a log with celery sticks – fill the stalk with almond butter, add a few raisins in a line, and voila! Find ways to sneak veggies into other foods. How about grating veggies into soups, casseroles, and sauces? If you have to turn to canned or frozen dinners on occasion, dump in extra frozen sliced veggies. Who will notice?
Food battles with kids are likely just a part of life that we adults all get to experience. While it can be really frustrating, do your best to keep your patience and perspective, avoiding turning food into a major contention point. Introduce new foods several times, even if the first attempts don’t go so well. They’ll come around. Celebrate the wins, continue setting a good example, and your children will likely turn out to be the healthy eaters you’d like them to be.
Brad Shepherd grew up on the classic American diet of boxed dinners and frozen meals. When his wife Kelli was confronted with difficult health challenges that left many questions unanswered, the two of them began studying the impact of food choices on their health. In that search for answers, dramatic improvements came, not just for Kelli, but surprisingly, for Brad as well.
Together they created Fooduciary as a way to share their journey and their knowledge with others who are also seeking answers.
With the newcomer in mind, Brad and Kelli teach others how food impacts their health not just today but in the future. He is inspired daily by watching readers embrace a healthy lifestyle and aiding those with similar questions that he once had, the best part being when someone realizes the power they have over their own health outcomes.
To help others make a gentle transition to healthy eating, Brad happily shares an introductory guide called Five Days to Clean Eating.
photo credit: Saad.Akhtar cc
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD says
Nice ideas, but they may not be enough to inoculate your child from the challenges of living in a world with too much to each. The most important task of parenthood is helping our children develop adequate self regulation and resilience. No one has to teach a child to use food to self sooth. With their first suckle, babies get the connection between food and feeling better. The real challenge is teaching your child how to self soothe without food. This skill allows food to maintain its rightful place.
I have a question about #2. I know not to bribe my kids to eat their veggies with dessert but on the other hand they can’t have dessert (usually ice cream) if they didn’t eat their veg. Isn’t that just common sense? I have always been conflicted over this because I don’t want it to be a bribe but they can’t just skip the peas and have ice cream
Keep desserts healthy. (ex. sliced fruit) so if they aren’t eating their supper they can still have dessert and are still getting something good from it. Save the “treats” for other times, not linked to meal times.
Camille Duckworth says
I agree this is the one I struggle with ‘how’ to handle as well. We typically don’t plan or even keep dessert foods in the house. So it’s not an issue of eat your food so you can have dessert, but if my kids don’t love what I’ve made for dinner….then they just won’t eat it, but later of course complain they are hungry. I serve bird like portions to my kids in the first place….like so small they could starve if that’s all I gave them, (of course bigger servings of foods I know they like better), but this way they are required to at least try everything on their plate (to be done with dinner) and then they have to eat most everything if they want anything else to eat later. There is NO way they are getting full off of it, just being picky and not wanting to eat it. Seriously wondering the best solution if this isn’t what I should do. EVery time they would opt to not eat half of the dinner and wait till later to eat something else. I don’t care to waste my time and food making a dinner and then it not get eaten.
Consider reading the books by Ellyn Satter – she encourages children to serve their own of what they want OUT OF what is offered. She discourages the no-thank you bite (especially if it’s causing fights) but she does encourage presenting new foods. She also encourages set times, with no snacking inbetween set meals and snacks, and snacks are mini-meals, not junk. There is, or course, a lot more too it. It’s how I feed my kids and it seems to work well.
Getting my ideas from books by the author Ellyn Satter, if I am going to have a sweet with that meal, I serve it with the meal. Usually my kiddo goes for it first with gusto, then eats the rest of his meal without complaint. Might depend on the ages of your kids though. Started it when my oldest was about 2.5 yrs, and he did fine with it. Started it with my youngest at about 2 yrs, and he simply asks for more without eating anything else. But I will try it again when he is a little older. According to the books, and my first born, it works well.
Carrots are my favorite veggie, and I’ve always loved them. My mom used to bribe me by saying if I ate this or that then I could have carrots or beets or … I LOVE veggies to this day, and it’s probably because of mom bribing me as if they were candy, lol.
It’s not a veggie but my 3yr old thinks that whole pitted dates are brownies so she gets really excited when there’s a “brownie” on her plate at lunch or dinner time.
Great post! I shared it in my mommy weight loss group to help us understand some things we shouldn’t be doing with our kids!
Thanks for the post!
And here I thought I was doing good getting my son to potty on the potty for a piece of a “snack.” They are little organic bars with dates, raisins, and nuts. Is that still bad?
Lindsey Gremont says
That is entirely up to you!
I find offering herbal, none medicinal, teas chilled to kids is a huge treat, they love fruity teas with a little honey to sweeten and see it as very grownup to have what you have. And for really little kids I always offer small snack like meals at 3hr intervals because they have small stomachs and get full easy but also hungry sooner because they play so much