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 email@example.com 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!
It’s not your fault
Developmental phase adapted from a time when a fear of strange foods ket kids from eating things that are toxic.
They are biologically driven to be skeptical of unfamiliar foods.
Dependent upon normal development, fluctuations, in appetite, genetics, individual eating style, and what is being served
You cannot manipulate or control the way your child eats, and that's okay!
Michael Pollan’s son is a picky eater
Take “the teaching approach” Think more about long term habits and less about a green bean today.
Instead of does it have calcium or protein, ask, what habits am i teaching?
Snacking on crackers leads to chips
Sugary Juice leads to soda
Sweet yogurt leads to ice cream and pudding
Listen to the buddha
Our attachment to outcomes
Buddha says all suffering is due to attachment
As parents, we try to change eating structures and habits. After a few months of trying to have family dinners, the child’s menu is still pretty limited. Things start to go back to the way they were before. The problem isn’t that family dinners weren’t effective, it’s that parents are only focused on one outcome, the child eating more foods.
-However, look at all this progress:
The child is eating dinner with the family
Mealtimes are less stressful because the parents are only preparing one meal
The child is getting exposed to different foods
The child feels his parents believe in him enough to invite them to join them for dinner, his confidence increases because he feels empowered and supported.
Check in with your intentions
However, if your intention is to get them to eat, they’ll feel the pressure from the start. We over exaggerate how tasty everything is, and continually remind them that they made it, that they like it, etc. When they choose not to eat it, we roll our eyes and feel disheartened because we were attached to the outcome of them eating and not the learning opportunity.
If your intention is to teach them about food, then you invite them into the kitchen, show them what you’re making, and allow them the space to learn and be a part of the process. Over time, this style will teach positive lifelong habits and healthy relationships.
How does that change your ability to accept their present eating or not?
Parents are told picky eating is a problem
Better to think: Picky eating is how most kids eat. Like many other phases of children’s development, they need to be supported and encouraged through it.
Don’s panic and try to get kids to change
This causes resistance and creates stress around mealtimes.
Remain calm and neutral about eating. Don’t give up!
The Trusting Mindset
With an image of the child as confident, capable, competent, curious, a co-constructor, and a natural observer, food invites children’s learning to be made visible in ways most creative and unique
Always serve food with a positive attitude, even when you think your child won't eat it. This helps them to explore with an open mind each time.
Teaching eating is no different than reading, writing, potty training. We trust that our kids will eventually learn, but we dont push, prod, or make things too easy.
Kids need time, patience, and opportunities to learn.
Think of kids like a plant
Your attitude is like soil- you want it to be nutrient rich full of trust, high expectations (without judgement) and joyful meals
Trust and acceptance
A supportive environment that maximizes their ability to learn and grow with food.
Seeds are food structure and offering
Water and Sunlight are your feeding approach
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:
Eating foods in proportion to their healthful benefits
We eat fruits and vegetable more than hot dogs and crackers
Eating different kinds of foods
We eat different foods from day to day
Eating the right amount of foods
We eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full
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
Make small changes and be patient
Use seasonings and textures they like on new foods
Decide WHAT TO EAT from the selections being served
Children are empowered when they are trusted to make decisions, and explore.
If they dont eat the lunch you pack them, let them pack their own lunch with your guidelines and assistance
Ask them for involvement-
How do you want your apples cut?
Let them pick out shapes of pasta, colors of pepper, package of peas
HOW MUCH to eat, considering hunger and fullness
Remind them to check in with their tummies
Another option for introducing new foods:
E.A.T. Program (Kelly Dorfman) Author of How to Cure your Child with Food
1. Eliminate something irritating or unhealthy to the child
2. Add 1 new food
3. Try 1 bite every day for 2 week and then move on with or without the food
“WHEN you eat your one bite, THEN we can read a story”
Take note of your words “we’re never going to read your story if you don’t finish” sets a stressful and negative tone.
Use positive tones, and consequences in place will help kids to change.
The consequence is not being able to move on to the next activity.
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.
Decide together how to prepare new items.
Use this time at the market to talk about colors and textures and flavors.
Don’t be a short order cook
Cooking special meals just for your picky eater tells them, I don’t expect you to learn to eat your meals. Also adds more work for you
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.
Remain neutral, and lay out clear expectations.
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.
Don’t give into tantrums between meals.
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,
% of kids went up from 5% to 50% for apples after asking
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:
Sometimes all you have to do is allow your child to observe the enjoyment you get from foods, and they will reason that someday they too will enjoy them.
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
Should we add cinnamon or nutmeg? Basil or rosemary? These small steps can empower kids to try new dishes when they see all the steps and feel included in the process.
Be a cooking teacher:
Find times to teach them about food without the expectations of eating attached.
Have them involved in at least one step of the process.
Set the table, wash veggies, create a menu, help with prep or plating
At least once a week have them help you start to finish
Engage them at the market or grocery store, and allow them to help you plan the meals for the week.
Take a night off. Occasionally allow them to prepare the whole meal, offer guidance, but allow them this time to shine in the kitchen and be proud of what they’ve created.
Help them look through recipe books, talk about dishes shared at restaurants, etc.
Make sure they can help themselves in the kitchen
Make tableware accessible:
Setting the Table
Helping themselves to water
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:
Try a Learning Plate:
If there are foods the child is uncomfortable with, move it to a nearby learning plate.
Name it, smell it, touch it, taste or lick it, even kiss It
After some discussion about the food, and maybe even a taste, someone else in the family may enjoy those bites.
Liked Foods List:
Start making a list of foods (maybe in different color groups, food groups, etc) that the child likes. You can draw and cut them out, make magnets, stickers. Make it fun. Use this chart to select foods to include in meals, and celebrate adding new foods to it.
Today I ate a rainbow chart
Eat a rainbow for 6 days and get to select a fun family activity to do together.
This will help ensure that kids are getting a variety of nutrients and antioxidant rich foods.
Go to the pool, play a game, build a fort, have a picnic. Choose simple yet fun things we can do together as a family to support children after a week of successful eating.
Allow them time to explore and discover:
Bring foods into play time
Allow them to explore foods outside of mealtimes. Cutting and sorting colored vegetables, dyeing clothes with the rich red color from beets.
Getting new fruits and vegetables in your kids hands is a great place to start exploring, and getting them more familiar with new things.
Allow kids to eat with their hands. Teach manners like being respectful at the table and please and thank you, but let them get a little messy while they’re learning to eat. Learning motor skills in addition to trying new foods can double the challenge. Let them touch, smell and lick the food until they're ready to start using the utensils.
Make sure that they are comfortable at the table. Feet firmly planted, not dangling, and sitting up. If they are tying to balance (in say, a booster seat) it makes trying new things that much harder.
Fruits & Vegetables (Complex Carbohydrates)
Avoid sneaking them in, this does nothing to teach kids about the magic of these foods, and betrays trust when they discover your mischief.
Try different preparations:
Roast, saute, bake in breads, dehydrate- teach them the myriad of ways to prepare and enjoy new foods
Serve veggies with dips
Brush breads and carbohydrates with butter or olive oil. Drizzle over pasta.
Offer nuts, seeds, and their butters as snacks
Build onto grilled cheese sandwiches, by adding slivers of avocado.
Introduce eggs in sauces like aioli, or cooked into french toast
Introduce new proteins with breading, or in familiar ways
Include veggie proteins like legumes and spinach in small amounts on items like quesadillas, or grain/ pasta dishes.
Algae, nutritional yeast, seaweeds, herbs/ spices, fermented foods, and bone or mineral broths are nutrient dense, rich in both micro and phytonutrients
Focus on SOUL foods: Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed, and Local.
Know what to expect:
Infancy: (0-1 years)
Most babies are open to a wide variety in this time (honeymoon phase)
Toddler and Preschool: (2-5 years)
Growth slows and minds develop, kids become more resistant, even changing preferences of previously liked foods.
Kids will slowly grow out of neophobia as they gain more food experiences. One positive experience builds on the next
School Age: (6-12)
More open to trying new things, but heavily influenced by friends and environment.
Growth and appetite continue to climb. Kids open up to new foods, but also learn to follow trends, experiment with new ideas about eating, diets, etc
Modeling your food relationship:
Make for a variety of healthy n fun. No forbidden foods
Food is neutral or positive not bad. Just need to find balance
Teach the differences in healthy foods, and talk about other foods as “occasional” foods.
Say ——- is not a choice, not on the menu, not available today. Not just no.
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
Tell your tummy thank you for holding your energy today
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.
Know that “I don't like it” often means ”I’m not ready” or “It looks challenging to eat”
“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.
“What can we do to make this meal yummier for you?”
Offer suggestions if they don’t have ideas already, “Do you need dip for your veggies?” “Separate meat and rice?” “Add more spices?”
Keep trying, sometime time and exposure is all they need, don’t give up!