Feeding Children

One of my recent assignments was to come up with a 1-page client handout on issues that come up with children and eating. Let me begin by saying that there is absolutely NO WAY to fit all of the potential issues onto one page only! Feeding issues with kids can start the moment you introduce solid foods, and can last their entire lives if not handled carefully. There will always be the normal problems like picky eating, refusing to try something new, or only wanting sugar. But these things can be managed if the parents are educated on how to approach the issues. The goal should be to raise a child that has healthy eating habits – not only in regards to what they choose to eat, but also why they eat and how food fits into their life.

So, I did the best I could to make a 1-page handout that at least presents the idea of healthy feeding habits for parents and kids. I’ll provide the highlights here. Each family will do things slightly differently, and that is great! And when issues arise, each child may need a slightly different approach to dealing with that issue. A nutritionist or feeding specialist can help you figure out the best way to create a healthy meal environment in your home.

  • At all costs, avoid power struggles during mealtime or snacktime. A child who associates eating with stress will have a difficult time ever having a healthy relationship with food.

  • Parents are in charge ALWAYS! They decide WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE their kids will eat. The kids can then decide IF they will eat, and if so, HOW MUCH they will eat.

  • It’s okay to serve desserts on some nights. Don’t be afraid to serve it with the rest of the meal, and let your child choose what he eats off of his plate. If dessert is always saved for last and withheld until the child eats the other foods on their plate, they will begin to associate sugar with “yummy” and vegetables and meats with “yucky”. Bottom line: kids always want what they can’t have!

The following symptoms could indicate a nutritional deficiency, allergy or intolerance in your child:

  • Dry or rough skin, hair, or nails

  • White spots on fingernails

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Constant cravings for sweets

  • Hyperactivity

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Diaper rash

  • Eczema or other skin rashes

  • Chronic ear infections

  • Stomachaches

  • Recurrent respiratory tract infections

Some common nutrient deficiencies in children include essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, B-vitamins, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. A nutritionist can help you determine if your child has a deficiency.

Here are some tips for making mealtimes more pleasant:

  • Place toddlers in a high chair that allows them to sit right up at the table with the rest of the family. This helps them feel included in the meal time, and also allows them to view how mom and dad and older siblings are modeling good eating habits.

  • Mom and Dad absolutely MUST lead by example. Choose a variety of healthy foods and don’t be a picky eater! Most of the time, kids grow up with similar eating habits as their parents.

  • Refrain from commenting on how much or how little your child is eating. Do not reward them for cleaning their plate, and do not scold them for eating nothing.

  • Include your kids in discussions at the meal table.

  • Involve kids in meal planning and preparation to keep them interested and excited. Grow a garden and let them help harvest, or let them choose their favorite vegetables at the grocery store.

Many of these things are pretty basic, but it’s always a good reminder for parents. Another helpful tip I heard was to evaluate your child’s eating based on one week’s worth of meals. One day they may eat only raspberries, and another day they may hate raspberries and eat 3 well-rounded meals. That’s okay! Just as long as they are getting the nutrients they need over the course of a week.