Nutrition & Kids: What's a Parent to do?
When it comes to feeding kids, many parents are at a loss.
Parents want to feed their kids well, but not be so hyper-focused on food and
weight that disordered eating develops. There is so much information about
nutrition and health flying around us that it is difficult to determine what is
sound advice, what is hype, and what applies to children. Families are busy
making it difficult finding time to shop, cook and be active.
Another factor contributing to the problem of taking care of
ourselves, is the 'toxic' environment we live in. High calorie foods are readily
available and affordable, advertisers pique children's and our interest in foods
that are typically not nutritionally dense, and budget cuts make physical
education and after school activities a thing of the past. Top that off with our
culture's phobia of fat and the pressures to be thin, and its no wonder we find
it difficult to eat and be active in a supportive way.
One thing we must keep in mind is that children model what
parents do. This is especially true for younger kids. Taking good care of
yourself, by eating to support your body's needs and health, and moving for fun
and having a strong self image, demonstrates a healthy foundation and models
ways children can take care of themselves now and as they enter adulthood.
Parents may mistakenly view their children's nutritional needs
as those of a 'mini-adult'. This is not so; children are growing and developing,
so it is essential that their bodies get a variety of macro (carbohydrate, fat
and protein) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients. Nutrition doesn't have
to be rocket science here. However, some basic principals of balanced eating
Eat a variety of food from different food groups and
different foods within the groups to ensure a variety of vitamins and minerals
Don't eliminate any group or type of food, unless you can’t stand it or have allergies/intolerances to it. Otherwise you may run the risk of
not getting enough of your micro-nutrients.
Listen to your body's hunger and fullness signals. Eat when
hungry, stop when comfortably full. Children are excellent at determining when
and how hungry and full they are. In fact, we are born with this instinct. It is
important for parents to trust their child's signals and not force-feed or
restrict. When parents try to force-feed children, children actually eat less.
The opposite happens when a child's intake is restricted. In this situation, the
child eats more, often past the point where they are comfortably full. Children
will sometimes hoard food or eat in secret if parents are too controlling with
Eat some protein each day. Sources of protein include: poultry, fish, meat, eggs, dairy, soy, beans, nuts & seeds. Excess protein challenges the kidneys and bone health.
Include some fat in your diet every day. Some can be obtained by how food is prepared and by 'treats'. So much concern about fat has led some of us to be too restrictive. Often people will take a low fat diet too far and we see deficiency problems. Reduced fat and non-fat products should not be used for children, especially young ones, as fat is necessary for brain and neural development. Keep in mind that eating is a balance and excess fat is not healthy for your heart.
Get complex carbohydrates in your diet by eating whole grains, beans, fruit and vegetables. There is quite a bit of fear now days about carbohydrates causing people to become fat. The bottom line is that if one eats more food than they need (regardless of what it is), their body will store the excess energy as fat. Carbohydrates are essential to fueling our brain and muscles. Carbohydrates give us the energy we need to be active, play and think.
Calcium rich foodsare essential for good bone health. It is recommended that children get 2-3 servings a day. More foods are being fortified with calcium, which can be helpful for those who cannot tolerate dairy products.
Eat some produceFruit and
vegetables have many different vitamins and minerals that are essential to
growth and development. Eat the ones you like and try experimenting with others.
Take pleasure in eating. Enjoy your food and the eating
Be sure to include some 'fun foods' or 'treats'
Tips on Eating/Feeding
Parents can teach eating well
balanced meals. Parents may need to examine their own eating habits. (If kids
are 'picky' eaters or there is concern with disordered eating practices, consult
with a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in working with kids who have
feeding and eating problems)
Delineate who's in charge of what:
It is important to delineate responsibilities:
Parents are in charge of serving meals & snacks that contain a
variety of foods at a regular time
Kids are in charge of what, how much and whether to eat
Kids know when they are hungry & full, let them trust their body's
Let kids take part in 'fun' foods or 'treats' regardless of their body size.
Don’t restrict kids, put them on diets or pressure them to lose
weight. This leads to binge and 'secretive' eating and ultimately further weight
Don't use food as a reward or punishment
Tips on Activity
Encourage activity for health, socialization and fun. See if you can incorporate physical activity as a part of your life. A strong healthy body contributes to feeling healthy, confident and good self image.
Include family activities on weekends or vacations-walk the dog or
walk to the market, play ball/frisbee, skate, bicycle, go to the park
Let kids participate in sports that they like. They may need to
explore some options
Avoid too much ‘screen’ time by being aware of time spent watching TV and playing computer/video games. Get the TV out of the bedroom.
Don’t use exercise/activity as a chore or punishment
Walk to school and the store when possible
Tips on Attitude/Self Image
Examine the ways in which your beliefs, attitudes and behaviors
about your own body and the bodies of others have been shaped by the forces of
weightism and sexism.
Don't reinforce the belief that weight/size is the most important
aspect of a person. Don't criticize your body or anyone else's. Focus on the
positive attributes of people not their size.
Don't equate food/exercise with positive or negative behaviors,
i.e. "I was bad today because I ate cake", "I was good today
because I went to the gym".
Accept that Diets Don't Work. Dieters actually end up gaining more
weight in the long run. Additionally, it places guilt/shame on the dieter when
s/he goes off of the diet, thereby affecting self esteem. Diets don't allow for
one to trust their hunger/fullness signals.
Challenge the thought that dieting or losing weight will lead to
happiness or fulfillment.
Teach kids to be media literate. Discuss how advertisers try to
sell things by making us feel inadequate. Double message: indulge in food, but
don't gain weight.
Don't compare your child's weight/size with anyone else's.
Educate kids about the genetic basis of differences in body types
and the ugliness of prejudice.
Give kids lots of love and attention. Feed their egos. Reassure
them your love them no matter what their size or shape.
It’s more important to raise a
healthy child than a thin one.
A Healthy Weight is:
determined by your lifestyle, not by a number on the scale, growth
or BMI chart.
a weight where you can have food be part of your life, but not all
of your life.
the weight that one's body settles into with a balanced lifestyle,
healthful eating, and regular physical activity.
a weight that is attainable and maintainable within a reasonably
stable range without having to resort to heroic efforts of restricting caloric
intake or excessively exaggerating caloric expenditure.
a weight range that a person settles into while respecting natural
appetites for food, movement, and rest; without using restrictive eating
patterns, compulsive exercise, medications, or supplements to manage their
Books For Parents and Care
Costin, Carolyn. (1997). Your
Dieting Daughter: Is She Dying for Attention? New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Gaesser, Glenn. (2002). Big Fat Lies:
The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health.
Herrin, Marcia. & Matsumoto, Nancy.
(2002). The parent's guide to childhood eating disorders. New York:
Books For Kids
Douglas, Ann and Douglas, Julie.
(2002). Girl Zone Body Talk: The Straight Facts on Fitness, Nutrition &
Feeling Great about Yourself. Information to help girls ages 9-13
discover all the things that are perfect about them just the way they are.
Emery Normandi, Carol and Roark,
Laurelee. (2001). Over It: A Teen's Guide to Getting Beyond Obsessions with
Food and Weight. Written for teen boys & girls with food or weight
Haduch, Bill (2001). Food Rules!
New York, NY: Puffin Books. This is a fun book for kids to read about
nutrition and how it works in their body. Elementary and Middle School age.
Mills, Andy and Osborn, Becky. (2003)
Shapesville. Adorable book that celebrates positive body image and
diversity for kids ages 3-8.
Bay Area Nutrition, LLC:
nutrition consultation and education people of all ages for a variety of
nutrition related concerns. Articles and tips available on website.
on positive body image for adults, kids and care providers.
specifically to kids & weight:
The Body Positive:
Healthy Weight Network: