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Kids & Food: Create Competent Eaters

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

Feeding your kids is such a big part of the day… every day. Especially during summer, my days feel filled with feeding them and then telling them they can’t have another snack they just ate/are about to eat. As a mom it can feel frustrating but, two pieces of good news: it’s totally normal AND there are some healthy ways you can help manage this and create competent eaters in the process.

Competent What??

Not a term you hear a lot, but certainly what we all want for ourselves and for our kids. This is the basis of a good relationship with food by being positive, comfortable, and flexible with eating. Essentially, you get enough to eat (not too much, not too little) and eat a balance of enjoyable and nourishing foods. Now, this concept can be dreamy but also hard to wrap your mind around because there’s nothing concrete about it. No numbers, no plan, nothing…however, research has shown that competent eaters:

  • Have better diets
  • Are more joyful and positive about eating
  • Have the same or lower BMIs than those that diet
  • Have better self-acceptance
  • Are more active
  • Sleep better and longer
  • Are clinically healthier (better blood pressure, better cholesterol levels, and more!)
  • Do better with feeding their children (whoop whoop!!)

Sign Me Up! What’s Next?

Before you can start changing you kids’ habits, take a minute to look at yours. When you step back at look at your food consumption during the week are you eating a variety of foods? Do you try new foods on the regular? Do you trust yourself to eat enough without counting calories or macros? Do you take time to eat AND pay attention while you eat? I find that most moms struggle with this last part. Once you find a few places you can improve, make it happen! Don’t’ wait until Monday, or even tomorrow, do it at your next meal. Don’t even change what you’d normally put on your plate but the first key is to put it on a plate. Then take the time to sit and eat and really focus on your food. Not on your phone, a book, or tv… just your food and any company you may be keeping at the meal.

Back To Our Initial Issue…

When we started you thought this was all about the kids, but come to find out it starts with you (isn’t that how most things work?). Now that’ we’ve taken a moment to talk about you and your habits, let’s switch back to issue at hand. Many times during the summer kids are off schedule, more active, and craving more foods (and may have more access to foods too) but that doesn’t mean it’s time for a free-for all. One of the most helpful things you can do to save your current sanity and develop competent eaters is to set regular meal and snack times.

Offering predictable meal times and patterns will help your child learn to eat enough during that time versus grazing all day long. For example, you may offer the following schedule (noting this is for an ideal day, but our lives aren’t always ideal so focus more on the general idea rather than exact times):

8:00 breakfast

10:30 snack

12:30 lunch

3:00 snack

5:30 dinner

If you find your child asking for foods between these times, remind them when the next meal/snack is and offer them water. Just like you should, have your children stop and enjoy their meal with no distractions, when possible. While they are eating, remind them to eat enough to not be hungry until the next time to eat. Encourage your child to listen to their body: “if your body is telling you you’re full stop eating.”

Remember that kids eat different portion sizes, and often eat less than adults think they should. For example, adult should eat 8 servings of fruits or vegetables each day but a 2 year old only needs 3-1/2 servings daily of produce. By the time they are 14 that amount goes up to 8 servings.

 

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