In a part life I was a paediatric dietitian and had always wanted to publish a book with this title and finally I have managed to, so here is my new e-book! Your Kids, Their Food was written to be a practical way to approach healthy eating for kids without expecting parents to spend hours in the kitchen marinating chicken drumsticks. Your Kids, Their Food gives clear information on what is a well balanced, child friendly breakfast, lunch and dinner for kids. It talks about clear strategies for managing fussy eating, overeating, snacking and family meals and it has plenty of child friendly, nutrient recipes everyone in the family will love.
Our kids are not a healthy bunch and I do not believe it is because parents do not care, rather I think many parents are tired, overwhelmed and simply do not have the energy to deal with food fights when they get home and Your Kids, Their Food has been written for these parents. We hope you like it.
Exclusive extract from Your Kids, Their Food:
Creating a positive food environment for kids
There are few things parents’ worry more about than what their children are (or are not!) eating. Food is the first and arguably the most powerful way mothers show love for their children; families connect over food thousands of times in a lifetime and food, although a necessity, it is our first and often ongoing major source of pleasure.
Despite there being enormous amounts of information available on what the best foods and diets are for children, amidst frantic lives and overwhelming schedules it can be challenging to find time to digest all the information. Most importantly, even if you do have time to work out exactly what your kids should be eating, there is far less information on how you get them to actually eat it.
While nutrition is a science, eating is behavioural and hence any attempt to change or help develop a child’s eating behaviour, requires a parent to become a mastermind of managing their child’s behaviour at different ages, and remembering a few key principles.
Parents teach children how to eat for life
What are your most vivid memories of food from when you were a child? Was it enjoying lamb cutlets and soggy vegetables at the table? Was it treats at the park with your dad on the weekend? Or was it big family BBQ’s where there were huge servings of sausages and salads? Such food memories are vivid as they play a huge role in shaping the way we eat for the duration of our lives. For this reason, the memories we give our children are just as crucial in shaping their health and life long eating behaviours.
This means if we teach children that it is acceptable to not eat vegetables at meal times and always dine in front of the television, this behavior will not only be very challenging to change, but once it is deep set and established in ten or twenty years your child will still be doing this, even if they too are a parent.
So powerful are our early experiences with food and eating it really is worth spending some time thinking about what imprint you would like to leave on your children when it comes to eating well and being physically active.
Food and eating should be fun
One of the most common complaints I hear from mothers in relation to food and eating is how stressful meal times at home have become, which is an enormous shame. Life is busy and hard enough without food creating more stress and tension at home. Mum’s worried about what their toddler is or is not eating; that their teen is eating too much or too little, or that entire lunch boxes return
home untouched despite hours and hours of meticulous planning and preparation. If you are finding yourself in this worried state regularly, it is time to take a step back and refocus on what is really important.
Remember that food, like anything in a child’s life, needs to be fun or they are not going to be overly interested. The more stressful and intense meal times and food conversation becomes, the more difficult it is going to be to not only get the kids to do what you want them to, but to also encourage them to relax and enjoy the process. Children are exceptionally good at picking up on their parents stress and trying to avoid it, so the more relaxed you become in the meal environment, the more likely you child will be too.
Every family will have different food rules
As a health professional, there are certain recommendations I can make to families and parents about what are ideal meal behaviours and food intake patterns for their children. What I am unable to do is to tell each and every parent what are the right rules and limits for their family, as every family is different. Some families will like to have dinner at 5pm, others at 9pm. Some families like to include a dessert every night, others once a week.
When it comes to eating, food and meal times, much of an individual family’s needs are determined by their own traditions, cultures and family make up. What is important is that parents take some time to consider the way in which they would like their family to eat and mix good nutrition and a little fun with that.
Every child will have different food behaviours
The way we eat is as individual as the clothes we choose to wear and the jobs we do. Just as each and every child has a completely different personality, even within a family, so too will they have different food likes and dislikes and varying eating behaviours.
Within families it is not uncommon to have one child who is extremely fussy, and another who is obsessed with food. One who does everything you ask, and another who does nothing you ask; it is simply their differing personalities.
The best thing parents can do in these situations is keep the food environment similar for all children, as remember; children are extremely good at detecting even slight differences in parenting between children. Serving one meal for one child and another for the rest of the family not only creates much extra work for you but teaches the more difficult child that they are special and can do exactly what they like. Keep the food environment even for all, and as a parent you are in a much stronger position to negotiate behaviour changes that will result in everyone eating better.
Modelling good food and activity behaviours are crucial
It may come as a surprise but if you or your partner eat potato chips and drink soft drink regularly, and then you expect your child not to, that is going to be a very difficult concept for a child, particularly a young child, to understand. Children want to be like their parents so if you really, really want your child to be healthy by eating well and exercising, you are going to have to do it too. No ifs, no buts. Signing up for parenting meant that you took on the responsibility of modeling good behaviours to your children, and there are few behaviours that have the long term impact that good food and activity behaviours have.
Now, no one is saying that you have to become a purist, and that there are not foods and eating behaviours that you may decide need to be different for parents in your home. For example, it may be that mum and dad always sit down together at the end of the day with some dark chocolate and a glass of wine, which is something the children do not. On the whole though, the daily, important behaviours such as eating breakfast, drinking water and sitting down at the table to eat need to be modeled well.
The way we talk about food is just as important as what we do with it
If you consider that we never say to children “You must eat your ice cream” but we routinely say “You must eat your vegetables”, it is suddenly not surprising that children learn very early in life that there are foods that are more appealing than others.
Children, young children in particular, learn very early in life that what they will or will not eat can become a powerful negotiating tool they can use to get their parents attention. If they flatly refuse to eat their dinner, not only will mum give them even more attention but she may even prepare them fruit or yoghurt or something else that is much more appealing than the meat and vegetables currently on the plate.
Begging, bribing, or cajoling children to eat is virtually pointless as it rarely works. All it does is teach children that they can control their parents by deciding that they will or will not eat, exhausts parents and does not fix the underlying food issues.
Even though it is difficult, the best thing you can do with children when it comes to getting them to eat properly is to act completely disinterested in what they are eating and praise them when they are doing the right thing. If a child learns that you do not care if they eat or not, they will eat when they are hungry, or risk skipping a meal and having to wait until the next meal or snack time when food will be offered again. The less emotion you show, the less of an issue meal times and food will be.
Control the food environment and your child’s food behaviours will follow
A key component of releasing meal and food stress from your life is generally only keeping foods that you want your kids to eat in the house. If it is not there, they can’t eat it, right? Children know when treats and other high fat, energy dense options are at home, even if they are hidden. Once they know they are there, they are going to nag and irritate you until they are able to eat them.
Some families may be able to keep a mix of both healthy and unhealthy foods at home and be blessed with children who can self-regulate their intakes perfectly but this is not the most common situation. In fact, families who choose to keep a lot of treats at home are at much higher risk of their children developing weight issues, particularly as they get older. And remember, one in four Australian children have a significant weight issue.
Keeping the variety limited and not over purchasing foods for home helps to regulate volume and keeps temptation low. Developing simple family guidelines such as “ice cream is eaten on weekends only” or “chocolate breakfast cereal is for school holidays only”, helps teach children that there are ‘everyday’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods, as opposed to feeling as if you have to say no to every request. Again, such rules will be different for each family.
There is a time to eat and a time not too
Over the past thirty years, three square meals a day has been replaced by three meals and three snacks, and now it is not uncommon for children to eat all day. Grazing is not only a nightmare metabolically, leaving us prone to weight gain and hormonal disturbances, when children graze it often leaves them poor in identifying when they are actually hungry and full. Grazing often also leaves children full for their key meals when the most nutritious foods, such as lean meat and vegetables, are served.
To avoid turning your child into an overeater, the best thing you can insist on at home is key meal and snack times when children learn that it is appropriate to eat. This contains the eating occasion, which helps children who are obsessed with food to focus more on the time of day when food can be eaten rather than the food available. It also allows children to be focusing on the other activities that they should be doing at other times, such as playing or studying. Once children learn that “there is time to eat, and time not to”, controlling the meal time environment becomes much easier.
Mums and dads are equally as important
The truth be known, it is highly likely that it is a mum as opposed to a dad reading this book right now, but the truth is that dads are every bit as important when it comes to developing, managing and changing their children’s feeding behaviour. If you find that it is always you preparing meals or arguing with the kids about food and meals, it may be time to hand over the reins a little. Children will often respond better to the less dominant parent in the food and eating arena as they have become conditioned to hear (and often ignore) the requests of the dominant parent. Even if your partner can only help once a week, starting to involve them in the feeding process will not only make your job easier, but may also be more powerful in directing the behavioural changes you are looking for with your child.