The Feeding Your Kids program is for everyone who wants to feed their children healthier. It’s the only program of this kind written from a parent’s perspective, addressing the real-life complications that make parents struggle with feeding.
The program is used by parents and caregivers with children of any age, from newborns to teenagers, and they frequently have children of very different ages in the household at the same time.
A parent has two objectives when it comes to food
As a good parent you have two objectives when it comes to feeding. First, you want the meal your child is eating right now to be as healthy and nutritious as possible. Second, you want to have a child eventually at least, who eats when hungry and stops when satiated, who eats a variety of foods (think more than 10 types of different vegetables and fruit) and is able to self regulate eating by making choices instead of relying indiscriminately on the “edible items” they are surrounded by, a child who is practiced in the mechanics of eating such as chewing and the different ways of trying new food, and last but not least one who is able to enjoy the food and the social aspects of eating. This description loosely follows what Ellyn Satter calls a “competent eater”.
However, a lot of parents feel that they are not on track to reach these objectives at all. Quite the opposite, for many of us feeding is a constant struggle. The reality is that our child is a picky eater, arguing with us over every meal, limiting their intake to hot dogs, pasta, pizza and French fries. We are frustrated by the conflicting information we receive about food and nutrition. We are fed up with receiving another round of advice about how feeding more broccoli would be better for our child. We have concerns about what our child eats, snacks on and buys for lunch at the school. We are scared that our child eats way too little or too much. We are not overly confident in our cooking ability. We are convinced that the time and budget we have for providing for your child is not sufficient.
Feeding is a complicated exercise
If you have any one of the above fears, you are not alone. Today’s business of feeding children is much more complicated and takes place in a very different environment than even 20 years ago. If your child’s eating is you concern, you need to understand a complex tangle of facts about nutrition, chemistry and biology, the psychology of feeding eating and behavior change. You also need to be able to organize and execute the feeding in an environment which does not support your objectives and where you do not have sufficient resources, time and budget. Finally, you have to alternate between immediate effect or long-term outcome, as your two objectives often seem to clash, and your immediate eating related victories achieved by ever so light pressure today are proven to lead to eating difficulties later.
Here are the questions parents ask:
- All parents desperately want their children to be healthy and happy. At the same time, in the United States one out of three 4-year-olds is overweight or obese, the highest number in the developed world. By the time teenage years come along, children eat erratically and they follow diets. Young children do not choose to become overweight or limit their food intake painfully and under no circumstance do their parents set out to achieve that. How does this happen against the intentions of everybody involved?
- Lots of tips are available in magazines, books, blogs, grocery stores, on billboards, TV, in the doctor’s offices about eating and feeding our children healthier. Every parent has heard ad nauseam that more servings of fruits and vegetables would be better, having regular family dinners would be better, not skipping breakfast would be better. In spite of all the advice available, something happens when we have to come up with the next meal again, and what our children end up eating is sugary cereal, take-out or frozen pizza, hamburger, nuggets or hot dog with fries, tacos or macaroni and cheese. At the end of the day fruit and vegetable consumption among children (and adults) is down and our children consistently eat a calorie-dense nutrient-weak diet, family meals fall by the wayside, and breakfast is often skipped altogether. Why is it so difficult to act upon the advice?
- We are surrounded with factory made processed “food”, readily available everywhere, from grocery to convenience stores, from schools to streets, from vending machines to fast food restaurants. These edible items are also advertised to us and to our children constantly, they are such a part of our popular culture that they dominate the visual image of what we associate with eating. Only the severest of shocks (your child has food allergy or diabetes and a related medical condition) can shake us to even rethink what is considered normal for the children’s menu. How can parents gradually develop the wherewithal to ignore the ingrained commercially motivated system inside and outside the home? How can children develop a healthy attitude towards food against this kind of pressure?
- What is within budget and is readily available at the store is likely to disappoint if one actually reads and understands the ingredient list. The same is true for take-out and fast food, except it is harder to find out what the ingredients are. Vending machine fare is worse because it is right in your child’s face but one can not read the label until one already have the product in hand. Even if you stop to consider what the label says, reading and making sense of the small letters and obscure names of ingredients and percentages is difficult at best, impossible at worst. Research about nutrition is controversial, not at all easy to follow, and changing (see mercury in fish, artificial coloring, sweeteners). How can anyone who is not a scientist find a satisfactory middle ground?
- Parents do not just want to feed children healthier food right now while in control of their choices, they want to raise a child with a healthy attitude towards food and eating, a child who is exposed to different tastes and textures early, who eats when and until they are hungry, so they can nourish themselves and make good food choices throughout their lives. Children are actually born with an ability to tell when they are hungry or full, they do want to eat and feel good about it. They learn the mechanics of eating, how to try new foods and how to behave at the table. Even the most experienced expert parents sometimes confuse what they try to teach a child about eating and muddle the child’s ability to regulate the food intake. How can one follow the rules of feeding when it’s seemingly so unintuitive?
- Food and eating supposed to feel good, the social aspects of eating together supposed to be fun and every nostalgic childhood memory has a special pancake or signature dish hiding behind it. Where did the joy go? Can we bring it back?
So what is a parent to do?
To offer a balanced, reasonably nutritious, available affordable and doable meal, in a developmentally appropriate way, three times a day, in an unsupportive or toxic food environment, requires very specific skills. In spite of a parent’s best intentions, and often without their recognition or agreement, the environment with its different objectives succeeds in making negative impact on children’s health or the parent’s efforts ignore the rules of feeding and backfire.
It is hard to get some action going in the right direction when a parent can slip up in this process so many ways. For every time you feed, there are many steps needed to lead to the food being nutritious and the child actually eating it and enjoying it. The steps start well before the eating takes place with planning and buying, preparing the food and involving the child in the process, serving the food and modeling eating, and finally learning to enjoy the different tastes and the social aspects of eating.