This blog post has been in the works for quite some time but perhaps it's apropos to publish it on Mother's Day. For all the mothers reading this post- keep up the awesome work!
Several weeks ago I received a request to write a post about feeding toddlers. It's a fantastic topic! Many parents are incredibly cognizant that they want to raise healthy kids- well-nourished, healthy weight, and willing to eat a wide variety of foods (not just treats!). Since I am not an expert on the topic, I turned to my colleague Katie Bartels MS, RD. She is a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and child feeding. You can check out her website here or follow her on Facebook here. I highlighy recommend following this girl on social media if you are particularly interested in how to feed your child well without fears of causing unhealthy food obsession in your kids.
Below are Katie's thoughts on the subject of helping your toddler eat well. I will follow her thoughts with some helpful resources for you to consider. Happy reading, happy eating!
Babies and toddlers can be very different eaters. Babies grow rapidly in the first year of life so they tend to eat a lot! Babies under a year have not yet developed the insight to know that there is a difference between broccoli and a cake pop. I'm never surprised to see an under 15 month old when I hear a mom say "my child will eat anything."
As babies turn into toddlers, growth slows...as does appetite. Toddlers become more aware of their surroundings thus picking up on details of food more than ever before. Parents can get into the picky eating trap if they do not realize this milestone and only feed toddlers foods they readily accept. It's important to have a strategy when feeding kids and raising healthy eaters. I teach the 80/20 rule for feeding. Offer 80% nutritious foods and 20% fun foods. Fun foods are foods we just eat for taste...not nutrition. Its important for children to learn to manage sweets.
Parents can help with managing sweets by following Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding. Parents are in charge of the what, when and where and children are in charge of how much and if. I tell parents that they are in charge of what foods they bring into the house. Feed your kids the foods you want them to learn to like. Help them manage sweets by offering them in unlimited quantities every so often at snacks. A good rule of thumb is to offer more opportunities for sweets if your child is overly focused on them. Children who are obsessed with sweets have usually been restricted of sweets at some point. Other children could care less about sweets, so for those children parents may not have to offer them as often. Serve a variety of foods. Serving variety allows kids to challenge themselves with eating.
I tell parents not to label foods as "good" or "bad" as this may set the stage for judgement about themselves whether they eat the so-called "good" or "bad" food. Parents do well staying neutral about foods and quantity eaten. If parents do their job...children can be trusted to eat enough to grow into the body they were born to have.
Resources from Expert RDs
So it’s been over a month since The Boston Globe published an article“BMI screening will begin this fall in Mass. schools.” This topic has weighed heavily on my mind (yikes, no pun intended) but I still seem to be combing through all of my thoughts on the topic.
The article states that starting this fall public schools will begin weighing and measuring 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th graders (parents can opt out) as a means to screen for overweight and obesity. The results, along with a report on how to deal with a child’s weight problem will be sent home to the parents. As I type, my blood is beginning to boil.
Here are a couple of thoughts:
1.) America has a pretty poor track record. As we’ve become more weight obsessed over the past several decades, the number of people that are overweight and obese has continued to climb.
2.) Research has shown that obesity prevention programs targeted to elementary and middle school children increased disordered eating behaviors.
3.) There is no utility in sending home a report card to a parent that says “your child is fat and at increased risk for Type II diabetes.” The article states that one of the recommendations for parents with overweight kids is to take them to their pediatrician. No offense to any pediatricians out there but I cannot help but laugh. I’d love to meet a physician that has the skills and more than 10 minutes solve their patient’s “weight problem.”
So rather than sending our children home with a report card, why don’t we start taking action that focuses on behaviors, not numbers. There is plenty of research to show that this is effective. Here are some ideas:
1.) Have students track the number of minutes they spend per day engaging in physical activity. And by all means, let’s stop cutting out recess and gym classes.
2.) Create a school garden. It will teach our children where food comes from, how to take stewardship over the earth, and supplement the pathetic meals they are served at school with more fruits and vegetables.
3.) Partner with local farms to facilitate work in exchange for reduced or free crops for low-income families.
There are a myriad of ways to promote healthy living. Sending report cards home is not one of them. With a Department of Health staffed with intelligent and capable people, I’d like to think we can do better than that. (Sorry for the rant, I do try to keep them to a minimum.)
Nearly all parents care deeply about the heatlh and well-being of their kids. But as most parents have experienced, dinner time can turn into a source of anxiety and frustration as you try to feed your family well. Even the most well-intentioned parent can find themselves engaging in a power struggle, battling over broccoli and cookies.
Ellyn Satter is a Registered Dietitian specializing in teaching people how to feed a healthy family. I highly recommend visiting her website. And if this topic interests you, check out her book "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much." She provides a wealth of knowledge and gives you the tools you need to raise a healthy family....without the dinner time battles.