The 10 Essentials for Raising Happy Eaters
by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
This month marks three years I’ve been blogging on Raise Healthy Eaters! I looked back on some of my older posts and realize many of you have never read them.
Here, I’m summarizing key topics I’ve covered with links to various posts — some old, some new and some in-between. Basically, these points and posts summarize what I believe are the “essentials” to raising healthy and happy eaters.
1. Follow the Division of Responsibility: The most common sense feeding advice is Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility: parents decide the what, when and where of feeding and kids decide the whether and how much of eating. When feeding gets off track, ask yourself if it’s because you are trying to take over your kids’ job (controlling their intake) or they are taking over yours’ by dictating meal choices. See this post for more details.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to encourage healthy eating. Here, I summarize 15 research based tips for healthy habits!
2. Provide reliable meals and snacks: In one of my first posts, I outline the basics of planned snacks and meals and why they are so important. When kids don’t know when there next meal is coming they can get insecure about food, but if they have unlimited access to food (and they graze) they may never build up an appetite for meals or end up overeating.
The best thing about planned meals and snack is they help you avoid the food associations kids learn and take into adulthood.
3. Don’t get sucked into these ineffective feeding strategies: This post summarizes feeding practices that may deliver in the short term but fail over the long haul. These strategies are common during the toddler and preschool years when a child’s growth slows and they naturally become skeptical of new food.
4. Be smart about sweets: Your child will let you know if your way of managing sweets isn’t working. Do they seem obsessed with food? Do they want to eat sweets nonstop? Discover tricks for getting things back on track with this post.
5. Understand your child’s developmental stage: I have found that missed knowledge about normal development are where a lot of the mistakes come in. For example, parents may freak out when their child becomes a picky eater, when in reality he/she is going through a normal stage of development as discussed here.
6. Be a positive role model: Parents can learn so much from feeding their children. I have found the things that bother me most about my children’s eating has more to do with me then them! This post summarizes the steps to becoming a role model without all the guilt and shoulds that keep us stuck.
7. Find a way of meal planning that works for you: Parents need to plan meals and cook. It is what it is! In this post I talk about how to plan weekly meals but if the traditional way isn’t working keep trying. I also summarize weekly nutritional goals to consider when meal planning. The goal is to maximize variety, nutrition and food exposure for kids.
8. Don’t let the fear of food get you: It’s easy to get scared about what is in our food today. I try not to let this fear get to me which is why I like to dig into the research (I did this during pregnancy too, which drove my doctor crazy!). I usually find that the problem is not as bad as someone else claims it is.
9. Get nutrition in perspective: In this post, I suggest ways to help children round out their nutritional needs with food. While sometimes a multivitamin is needed, it many cases it isn’t necessary (check here). Diet alone is rarely enough to meet the RDA for vitamin D and most kids don’t get adequate DHA for brain and heart health.
10. Eat together in a pleasant environment: I know it’s hard for some families to eat together but remember it doesn’t always have to be dinner. Look at your schedule and eat together as often as you can, including weekends. Here are some tips for maximizing the power of family meals.
If meals aren’t enjoyable then getting them to be enjoyable is your first priority. Why? Because it’s hard to learn about food when you don’t feel supported in a pleasant environment. If you are changing habits that have been in place for a long time, it will take time for your child to adjust.