In my last post, I briefly discussed Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A, C.E.D.R.D. Many people may be wondering how that applies to children, especially as so many children battle obesity. Making the intuitive eating process work for children is covered in this well-written book; however, I also recommend Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, CICSW, BCD. While there are many great guidelines in Intuitive Eating, Satter gives more specific information in her book on how to let children continue intuitive eating from birth or help them return to intuitive eating if they have strayed. Please see my previous post for more on Satter's book.
This topic of childhood nutrition is more important than ever as we continue to hear about the war on obesity. To incorporate intuitive eating, we as parents need to:
1. practice the division of responsibility as Satter discusses in her book.
2. stay neutral by not commenting on how much or little our children eat. Let your children trust their instincts. Also, avoid comments about calorie content and how healthy or unhealthy a food is.
3. set a healthy example. Try new foods, find plenty highly nutrient dense foods that you enjoy and eat them, and regularly be active with your children.
4. refrain from comments about a child's thinness or fatness. Focus on providing mainly foods that will help to nourish their bodies and allow some flexibility for "play foods". (The term "play food" is used in Intuitive Eating to describe what is often called "junk food".)
5. understand that children sometimes need to be exposed to foods up to 10-20 times before they will accept them. Provide the food and just relax. Children take the responsibility of exploring food and deciding when they are ready to try it. Don't give up on a particular food. Keep offering a variety of food and say nothing about it. Most likely, your child will eventually try it.
I want to leave you with one more suggestion. Refrain from telling your child that he/she must finish all of the ______ on his/her plate in order to get dessert. That well-known practice simply glorifies desserts by sending the message that it is a reward for eating that "yucky" dinner you served. I know that this is difficult for most parents as I struggled with it for a while also. It just seems so wrong to give a child ice cream when they only took one bite of their entree. Our parents told us we had to eat enough to get dessert and their parents told them the same thing. It is hard to break a habit that has been passed down over the generations. To avoid basing dessert on whether or not your child has eaten, you could choose a few days during the week when you will serve dessert. Serve dessert regardless of how your child ate. On the other days, your child will not receive dessert regardless of how he/she ate. I know this is a difficult change for parents to make, but it is a good one.