Sometimes as parents, we get so hung up on what’s on our kids’ plates that we lose sight of the most important long term goals. In this guest post, registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle shares three big picture goals you should be focusing on now–instead of stressing about how many bites of veggies your kids are eating! Jill will be holding a free online workshop, “5 Honest Mistakes That Sabotage Your Child’s Eating”, September 13 & 14; get your seat here.
by Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Raising healthy kids transcends “getting food right”. It takes much more than that. These three goals are the brick and mortar of lifelong healthy eating, and they are all established in childhood:
Goal #1: Self-Regulation
Why it’s important: Self-regulation is the ability to eat based on internal cues of hunger, appetite and satisfaction. All children are born with this skill, but how you feed your child can disturb or sustain this natural intuition.
Children who are able to maintain self-regulation with eating throughout childhood are more able to grow to their genetic potential, feel good about food and eating, behave well at the table, and perhaps be more adventurous with new foods. Children who aren’t good at self-regulation may show signs of growing too fast or too slowly, may covet or avoid certain foods, or may eat too little or too much.
How you can help: The goal is to feed your child in a manner that encourages his or her self-regulation. There are many ways to do this, but you can get started by making sure meals and snacks are scheduled at regular times throughout the day, using a regular location for eating, and serving a balanced menu of nutritious foods.
Goal #2: A Healthy Relationship With Food
Why it’s important: A healthy relationship with food means your child enjoys eating, doesn’t fear food, learns along the way that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, and, eventually, is able to independently strike a food balance that supports healthy growth, development, and his future health.
Children who don’t cultivate a healthy relationship with food may have trouble with eating and how they feel about it. Disordered eating, eating disorders and/or obsessive thoughts and behaviors around food partly stem from an unhealthy relationship with food.
How you can help: The goal is to help your child learn about food in non-judgmental, positive ways, while developing mindfulness with eating and food choices. One way you can begin this process is to ease up on labeling food “bad” or “toxic.” These labels may confuse children or contradict their feelings (If ice cream tastes so good, why does Daddy call it bad?), making it hard to be curious and accepting of all foods. Remember, learning about all foods and how they fit into your child’s life takes time and experience.
Goal #3: A Positive Body Image
Why it’s important: A positive body image is the root of nutritious eating. If your child likes her body, respects it, and wants to care for it, she’s more likely to select food and activities that will support these goals, especially as he or she grows to understand the connection between food and health. On the contrary, a negative body image may contribute to problems with food selection and eating, such as dieting, disordered eating, or an eating disorder.
How you can help: One way to do this is to make sure you demonstrate this for yourself. That means no self-deprecating comments about your own weight, body shape, or size. And no comments like this about others. Cutting back on media exposure helps too. The media has a preference for “perfect” bodies and an aversion for imperfect ones. Children internalize what they hear and see and are learning how to think about their own bodies from their most available teaching tools: you, their peers, and the media.
Tap into these three goals and you will help set a foundation of self-regulated, guilt-free eating that can last a lifetime!
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Jill Castle is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert, and author. She is the creator of The Kids Healthy Weight Project, a 5-module online course about food, feeding, and lifestyle habits for parents of children ages 4-14. She’s kicking off registration with a free online workshop called “5 Honest Mistakes that Sabotage your Child’s Eating” on September 13/14, 2016; get your seat here.