In The Clean Plate Club, Part I, we figured out that forcing a child to finish all the food on the plate is not a good idea. As parents, we really do want what's best for our kids, and we want them to learn to eat healthy foods so they can grow strong and healthy. So, what's a parent supposed to do?
There is no one easy answer. All kids are not alike and no one parent has the same parenting style. Even my three kids were different. It would have been nice if they came with instruction manuals when they were born! That being said, there are a few things that we all can do as we feed the next generation of kids:
- Sit down at the table to eat meals and snacks, even if there are only 1 or 2 of you there. Our lifestyles have gotten so hectic and crazy that many of us feed the kids on the run, or simply place food in front of them while they watch TV. Both feeding styles encourage mindless eating, which can create many eating issues. Eating on the run should be a rare occasion.
- Fix the same meal for the entire family. Don't get started as a short order cook!
- Serve pretty, fun fruits and veggies at every meal. Don't get stuck in the canned bean mode. Try all sorts of fruits cut up into bite-size chunks served on a platter in the middle of the table. Give each person a tooth pick to eat with. Better yet, a fancy tooth picks with the fancy colored plastic stuff on top. My kids loved melons and strawberries served like that-they still do. Prep raw cauliflower or broccoli bits and call them "trees" and serve them with low-fat dips. Be creative.
- Allow the child who is old enough to serve themselves. Encourage everyone to learn to start with small portions. They can always have more if their tummies are still hungry. Focus on the stomach hunger.
- Place healthy, whole grain bread or rolls on the table.
- Allow the child to eat as much as they wish to eat. No comments about amount the child should eat. Period. If you try to get a heavier child to eat less, the message they receive from you will almost always backfire. I know you mean well, but what do they hear? "You think I'm fat. You don't like me as I am. I'm not good enough." You don't even want to start going there!!
- No forcing a child to eat anything. See yesterday's blog.
- Encourage them to listen to their tummy/stomach: eat when you're hungry, stop when full, but don't harp on it. Model this behavior yourself. Tell the family, "My stomach's full, I've had enough." Then put down your fork and enjoy visiting with them while they eat.
- Place a kid's size portion of dessert a every person's plate right along with the main meal, if you are a dessert eating family. I love this suggestion from Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD, in "Your Child's Weight, Helping Without Harming, Birth Through Adolescence," (check the My Favorites List.) Let everyone eat the mini dessert whenever they want during the meal. Result? The dessert is not longer controlling the meal. Even if the child eats it first, they'll still reach for more food on the table---they won't be full yet!
- Serve a protein at every meal. Not enough time for "real meat"? What about lean deli meats rolled up into little logs held in place by a pretzel stick or a cute tooth pick. Add a slice of cheese or roll the meat around a piece of string cheese. Peanut butter is always a great back up, too, with heart healthy fat and protein, too.
- Serve milk at every meal. Ban soda pop at the meal, even the diet variety. Learning to reach for water or milk will serve a family well.
- Smile, relax, try to make it as happy, positive family time as possible. Yes, I know it won't always be. Remember? I raised 3 kids! I know, things won't always go perfectly, you won't always do things "right," but just keep trying to do your best. And that's just fine!