Building Healthy Relationships with Food
A Workshop for Parents of Dandelion Nursery School
Below I have included notes from our recent workshop, please use this as a reference and don't hesitate to reach out if you have any concerns. I greatly appreciate all of your great questions and feedback tonight and will be exploring more of your thoughts, struggles, and concerns here in the coming weeks. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with any further feedback from the workshop, or with additional questions and topics you'd like to see explored. Thank You!
Encouraging Empowered Eaters:
Use the knowledge of a child’s nature to nurture him in the best possible direction.
Set Goals and create a family mission statement:
What do you hope to achieve together
Communicate with your kids about what meal times will look like, how things might be changing, what the structure is, plan, consequences etc.
Make very clear your intentions and stick to them!
Make a few “mealtime rules” for everyone
As parents, we will be good role models. We will only ask the kids to eat foods that we are willing to eat ourselves.
As parents, we will decide what foods are offered, when, and where. As kids, we will decide of the food that is offered, what we will eat and how much.
We will value the process of learning to be more adventurous eaters. We will be willing to try new foods, even if it is just a tiny bite.
We do not have to clean our plates. We will listen to our bodies and let hunger be our guide.
We will not offer food rewards. In other words, we do not have to ‘eat our vegetables’ in order to get dessert. We will not reward good behavior with sweets and ‘treats’.
Mealtimes are a family affair. As often as we can, we will shop, cook, and eat together.
We are one family, and we will eat one meal. We will not make separate meals. But we will be sure to include at least one thing each family member likes at each meal.
We will learn together about food, nutrition, farming, and cooking.
We will have fun, play, and experiment with new foods.
We will be consistent in following these rules, but not rigid.
Talk about healthy food choices, and why we make them. Start the lesson with a little discussion on healthy food choices. Some of the questions to ask your kids:
- What is the purpose of food?
- How can you tell if a food is healthy or not?
- How do fruits and vegetables make you feel inside? How do sweets make you feel?
- Why is it important to make healthy food choices?
4. Get the whole family involved: Growing, shopping, cooking, tasting, and eating together
5. Focus on building good habits in the long term. It’s not about the broccoli today.
Transform the way you look at your child's relationship with food, and through that, improve their relationship!
Know when to seek help:
Frequent gagging, or vomiting, drooling, difficulty chewing, rigid preferences for particular texture, strong, persistent emotional reactions. Frequent constipation or diarrhea, might want to have an evaluation performed.
Listen to your instincts! YOU KNOW BEST!
Zinc deficiency slows growth and development. Alters taste buds and can lead to worse picky eating. A zinc tally test is easy to do at home to determine deficiency.
Allergies can cause picky eating, Milk protein is hard to digest for many, and can interfere with sleep, cause mood disorders, dark circles or pale skin. (Soy protein is similar).
Really strong cravings for gluten can be signs pointing to a gluten intolerance. Behavioral issues can be impacted. If you suspect gluten intolerance, the best approach is to try an elimination diet and see what changes. If one of the parents are sensitive to gluten or dairy, its likely that children will be too. Look at parents intolerances or allergies and start there.
Strange behavior and slow development in children can often be related to food allergies and intolerances. Did you begin to notice certain behavior after dairy or gluten were introduced into the diet? This could be a sign.
Raising Empowered Eaters:
3 Important habits to teach kids:
From: Its's Not About the Broccoli by Dina Rose, PhD.
The Plan (talk to your kids about your family plan)
WHEN & WHAT:
Meal structure: Offer regular meals at predictable times in a designated area
Offer food at regular and consistent times helps kids to regulate their food intake.
3 meals and 2 snacks is good for most kids under 6. Let kids know when these times are, and if they skip a meal they will need to wait until the next snack or meal. This helps kids to self regulate, and decreases the chance that they will eat for reasons other than hunger, such as being upset or bored.
Decide WHAT TO SERVE, considering child’s preferences
Another option for introducing new foods:
Family Friendly Meals:
Serve family style to empower little ones to make choices. Trust them and their bodies.
Check in with kids, allow them help with dinner options and prep.
Make it a habit to provide some familiar foods with new ones, i.e try an old favorite main dish with new sides and vice-a-versa. This helps kids feel comfortable to try new things.
Shop together, at the market or grocery store, allow them to explore and ask questions.
Let them pick out a few new items to try each week. At first, let them decide between 2 choices you’d already buy. If they successfully try those eventually they can pick their own produce item. Often in the store the child will promise to eat something because they want to be involved in the process, but when it comes time to eat it at home, they aren’t ready. This is frustrating for everyone.
Don’t be a short order cook
Variety and Flavor
Try not to serve the same thing 2 days in a row. Even in the beginning when options are limited, try to reimagine the foods in a different way. Use different nut butters, bread, and jam, add seeds etc to PB&J.
Different colors, flavors and shapes of same brand of items they like
Different brands, same colors or shapes.
Make food taste good! You wouldn’t want bland spinach, add some garlic and EVOO!
Encouragement over pressure. Gentle reminders in encouraging tone can help kids to feel better about eating habits and trying new foods.
“Remember you can lick or taste a little bite and spit it out” NOT “you can’t leave the table until you try”
“If you aren’t ready to try the soup, you can pick out the noodles” NOT “it has noodles, how can you not want to eat that ”
Eating shouldn’t be a control issue. Avoid stress and fear at the table.
Remind kids to be mindful eaters
When they say they are done, ask them to check in with their tummy.
Educate them on how to do this, use pictures, dolls with rice filled stocking tummies.
Balanced question: “Are you hungry or are you full?” (its neutral and allows them to decide without just saying yes or no”
Tell them when the next meal or snack will be to gently remind them to assess their hunger levels, nutrient needs, and self regulate their hunger and intake.
Kids Have Choice
If they have a choice between apples and French fries, they will choose French fries. Simply asking them which is healthier doesn’t matter because they dont care.
Getting them to think from another persons perspective will often change their thought process. What would Batman (friend, teacher, parent, etc) choose,
Tips to Encourage Healthy Food Relationships:
Now is the best time to begin teaching them cooking, before schedules get busy, homework happens
Mealtime can be a time for the family to connect, when schedules get busy, this may be the only quality time everyone gets together. Make them memorable and enjoyable for everyone.
Allow for some food jags or “strikes” but limit it to say 5 items. Something has to come back if they dont want to eat _____ now.
Be an Example:
Get Them Involved:
Explain to them the cooking process, how all these nutrients go into making meals and giving our bodies energy. Show them the components going into dishes.
Allow them to touch taste, and discover along the way. Children should always feel welcome to enter the kitchen and ask questions, explore, and be creative.
Give them the space to help make decisions
Be a cooking teacher:
Guide their expectations
When introducing new textures, invite them to touch it first to gauge what it might feel like in their mouth. Allow them to explore the textures, and talk about reasons for different types of textures in food.
Before going out to eat, or to a friends or relatives for dinner, let them look at photos and talk about what they might expect to see or taste
Usually 2 snack times a day is good for preschool ages
Snack drawer, treat drawer. When it’s time for snacks, allow them to choose from items you approve of.
If you don’t want the kids to eat it, don’t keep it in the house.
Make it fun:
Know what to expect:
Modeling your food relationship:
Give them tools for flexibility
Giving kids autonomy over other decisions in life can help them have less to exert choice over food
Try to stay neutral about food. Know you’ll mess up
Body Image Tips:
Teach them to honor and respect their body
When we feed our body nature will take care of you. If they are in touch with hunger and fullness, this will help their body image
Trust that everyone is different (like dog breeds)
Untangle food and weight try not to constantly comment on body size, “oh you’re getting so big” and growth rate in your little ones. Compliment their new skills, talents, and developing brain.
Let Them Make Mistakes:
Let them get hungry
Teach them to manage their hunger.
Giving into food tantrums teaches them that hunger is something that needs to be tended to immediately. Allowing them to experience the feeling of hunger helps them to recognize it, and prevent it by eating at meal times.
Reminding them when the next meal is incentivizes them to eat until they’re full next time. Over time they will learn to tune in with their bodies, and manage their own eating.
Let them eat too much
Plan an all you can eat snack attack with an item they seem to be obsessing over. This can remove some taboo from the item and sure enough, often they stop asking for it.
They will learn that starchy foods wont fill them up (limitless crackers) compared to how they feel after chicken with avocado.
Let them get a tummy ache from too many sweets, they will remember the feeling next time they are in control of how many sweets they get to eat.
Let them cook their way
Its empowering to prepare a dish on their own. They will learn what to change next time if there is too much cinnamon, or a dish comes out watery.
Guide them on their journey, but ultimately, allow them to explore.
Giving tips such as: add a little at a time (because you can always add more, but not remove), can be beneficial.
Encourage tasting ingredients along the way. Try spices on their own before adding and analyze how they changed the dish.
“How do you know, you’ve never tried it?” often brings more attention and pressure to the food and drives the child away, all the while the real challenge isn’t addressed.
Serving 1 thing your child likes or expects helps them feel more comfortable with new items, too many new things at once can be overwhelming.
Keep trying, sometime time and exposure is all they need, don’t give up!