Monday, November 28, 2011

Are you Feeding your Children Properly?

And here I'm not talking about nutrition, I'm talking about how you actually feed them. What are your practices surrounding food? Do you have regular meal times? Do you use coercion to try to inspire vegetable consumption? Do you reward with treats?

Parental feeding practices have been the subject of a great deal of research, and this month, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a handy summary of it all.

Here are the top 10 take home messages:
  1. Pressuring kids to eat fruits and vegetables and markedly limiting their access to sweets and fatty snacks, along with using food as a reward are all strongly linked with dis-inhibited children's eating patterns.
  2. The more inconsistent parents are with either eating schedules or serving healthy vs. unhealthy foods, the greater the negative impact of the parenting styles listed in the first point above.
  3. Having at least one parent at the family meal is associated with better consumption of fruit and vegetables, and a lower risk of skipping breakfast.
  4. Adopting a knee jerk pattern of dietary restriction with an overweight child may drive that child to be more, not less, likely to overeat.
  5. The availability and exposure to foods at home most certainly affects children's long term food selections and preferences.
  6. The earlier and more broadly a child is exposed to different foods, the healthier that child's eventual adult diet.
  7. The more fruits and vegetables available at home the more fruits and vegetables your kids will consume.
  8. The more fruit juice and breakfast bars available at home the less actual fruits and vegetables your kids will consume
  9. The greater the frequency of meals in front of the television and/or the lesser the frequency of family meals, and/or the greater the use of food as a reward, the higher your kids' intake of sugar sweetened beverages.
And number 10?

I'll quote directly from the paper, as it pretty much sums up everything else up:
"Children like what they know and eat what they like."
So to make sure your children know healthy, here are some straight forward prescriptions for healthy home eating:
  • Encourage a wide and varied healthy diet introducing new foods frequently and early.
  • Don't pressure your children to eat (one bite rules are fine), or withhold dessert unless they eat their veggies.
  • Don't reward them with food.
  • Disband the clean your plate club.
  • Keep plenty of fruits and vegetables handy, accessible, visible, washed and prepared and literally smile at your kids when they eat them.
  • Sit at the table and eat with your kids.
  • Don't skip meals.
  • Dramatically minimize meals out and takeout.
  • Ensure that as many meals as possible a week involve the transformation of raw ingredients (not mixing boxes).
  • Involve your kids in cooking.
Or put even more simply?

Live the lives you want your children to live.

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  1. Devil's Advocate checking in. Given that the majority of adults (in the US; I don't know how different things may be in Canada) eat a terrible diet of over-sweetened, over-salted, over-artificial, over-processed foods, that is, in turn, what they feed their children. I've talked to a woman shoveling Doritos into her mouth from a bag complaining that her toddler won't eat broccoli. There are the well-meaning but misinformed parents who think Splenda-sweetened, non-fat "kids" yogurt in neon hues and a handful of Goldfish crackers are "good" for their kids. There are those who start their babies on solid foods like french fries and chicken nuggets ("because that's what kids eat!") and then set them on a childhood of "beige" simple-carb-heavy, deep fried, low nutritive value eating. Most adults I know eat a small variety of very processed foods; I expect that holds true for the majority of American adults...and they eat on the run, from the drive-thru, in front of the TV, etc. And that's how their kids learn to eat as well. All the tips like involving your kids in cooking and having regular meal times and talking about nutrition are great and actually very, very helpful to raising kids who are interested in trying new foods and have a basic knowledge of nutrition...but there are painfully few adults who take an interest in their own diets, let alone think about structuring their childrens' diets. And as I said, many who have good intentions (A bagel is okay! A donut is not! Oh, wait...they actually are exactly the same as far as your body is concerned) are operating on false assumptions or outdated information.

  2. Anonymous8:46 am

    So if we're not supposed to sneak in veggies and we're not supposed to bribe or reward them into eating them, how do we get our kids to eat veggies? Really, I need an answer.

    1. Anonymous12:56 pm

      Eat veggies in front of your kids. Offer to share or say things like "these are my favorite, do you want to try them." Or, reverse psychology, "I don't know if I should share this with you, then you won't leave any for me." Leave veggies out on the table while they are doing homework or while you are preparing dinner (cook veggies first, then cook the rest of the dinner). Don't constantly provide snacks. Save dessert/treats for the weekend so you don't feel compelled to threaten "no dessert if you don't eat your veggies."

    2. MummaVeggie9:16 pm

      Don't give them anything else in the first place.

      Kids will choose crap food, if they're given the option to.

      Bring them up on real food from the beginning and all they know is real food.

  3. Alexie8:50 am

    To sum up: children learn by example.

  4. "markedly limiting their access to sweets and fatty snacks"

    What does this look like? To some, this might mean cutting down to 2 sodas and 2 desserts a day; to others it looks like offering absolutely nothing. I fear we have no idea in this day and age.

    I also wonder what the effects of this list might be on a child with dietary issues -- like Celiac. We HAVE to say no to lots of foods available to my daughter (not at home -- but at activities).

    Finally, so many activities nowadays are laced with "treats". There are some days when I have to dissuade my kids from accepting 4 or 5 treats (grocery store clerk offers a sucker, piano teacher offers chocolate, playdate parent puts out Oreo's, bank teller offers sucker etc. etc.). My line is always this, "These look like treats, but really they are processed foods that are not good for your body and ultimately not that tasty. If you still want a treat when we get home, I made some (can make some) XYZ."

    My point is that if we avoided saying no to treats, our kids could potentially eat them all day long.

    So what is a parent to do?

  5. Alexie is correct. Little kids don't go food shopping. Little kids don't drive themselves to restaurants. They eat what is in their homes, what they are given, what their parents eat. It is only by modeling good eating habits (and good life habits/behavior) that children absorb that and know it as "normal." And LakeMom is 100% on target with the ridiculous "treats" given to kids at every turn and the fact that "moderation" is, possibly, the most meaningless term when applied to eating. My daughter is given two "fun size" candy bars every week at her music lesson and is "rewarded" with lollipops and other gross candy (gummies) every Friday at school for having completed her classroom job (collecting milk money, delivering interoffice mail, turning off the computers, etc.) for the week. Not to mention the PEDIATRICIAN still gives patients a lollipop after their exams. As for the concept of "moderation," no one can define it. If you currently eat two cupcakes a day every day and you decrease it to one cupcake a day, maybe that's moderation to you. To another person, it's having a cupcake once a week. To another, once a month. There is no "good" amount of junk food; at best it should be consumed rarely and in some controlled setting like a special dinner out...not available in unlimited quantities in our homes on any given day.

  6. Anonymous...

    Offer. offer, offer... snacks here are fruits and veggies, always have been, so they don't expect differently. We always have raw veggies cut and prepared in the fridge that are easy to snack on. My kids love raw carrots, celery, cucumber and sugar snap peas. I also make hummus or baba ganoush and let them dip which is always a bit hit...

    We are homeschoolers so most days, we have three meals a day at home. I make one meal, and always try to have something that the kids like in the meals... However, I don't believe in even the "one-bite' rule... I wouldn't want to be pressured to eat something I don't like, so I won't do that to my kids. As I said, we always have cut veggies in the fridge, so if something isn't liked,then the kids can always get some snacks to eat... or to complete a meal..

    Also, the kids have a say in the weekly meal plan and help out cooking meals so it is rare that they don't eat with us.

    We don't always do dessert but if I make something for dessert it is part of the meal... not a reward. There is no minimum to what they have to eat to get it and sometimes they even eat it before or during supper... When the goal is to eat because you are hungry, not because you want dessert then there is no reason why they wouldn't eat supper even if they had dessert...

    As for juice etc, we don't drink any, I don't buy it... I make smoothies for breakfast (oats, frozen fruit, coconut milk, almond milk) but besides that they drink a tiny bit of almond/soy milk and the rest is water or herbal teas (cold or warm)

    I don't understand when people say their kids will only eat hotdogs, chicken nuggets, fries, etc... just don't buy it and they won't even have the option. Kids won't starve... get them involved in meals, get them involved in cutting veggies and teach them by example...

  7. Lakemom... My son has an allergy to petroleum products which means no artificial colours or flavours. We say no to all lollipops, candy, birthday cake, cookies etc unless we know they are OK... which is not often.

    If I am going into a situation like a birthday party, I bring an alternative (homemade cake, lollipops made with natural ingredients etc) if we are surprised the kids understand because they know the health risk.

    There is a difference between limiting treats altogether and saying no to treats that have potential risk and then offering an alternative. Limiting treats altogether makes them the "forbidden fruit"... offering them an alternative is showing them that we can make choices.

    1. Anonymous2:33 pm

      An allergy to petroleum? OMG... why is their PETROLEUM in our FOOD!!??

      I`m sick of people putting terrible stuff in the food we consume...

      Is food with petroleum on it have a biohazard sign on it?

  8. This great post inspired this long-time reader to finally delurk! ;)

    As a new mom, I am eager to get my son on the right track to eating a healthful and varied diet. My husband and I cook 85% of our weekly dinners and we are working on cutting back our collective sweet tooth to set a good example.

    Growing up, my mom fed my brother and I baked beans instead of Zoodles, lots of fresh fruit, and told us that raisins were nature's candy. We only had chips and soft drinks at birthday parties so we looked forward to them as treats, not pantry staples. I think mom set a great example for us as kids, and as adults.

    These tips are helpful and I'm looking forward to finding ways to have my son help out in the kitchen and to participate in family dinners.

    Thank you for this post and for your engaging and informative blog!


  9. Anonymous2:12 pm

    Offer vegetables, rather than making kids eat them. Rule in our house was you had to have a taste of everything, then you could eat what you liked. Now I'm microwaving spinach in college.

    Speaking of spinach- cook vegetables in varied ways, limit alternatives, and make sure you cook them well. Can't tell you how many times as a kid I'd brightly announce I loved spinach to friends' parents... then have to suffer through some godawful bitter green slime while the parents beamed at me and berated their kids for not liking spinach.

    Don't worry about your kids eating vegetables, worry about them liking them. If they like them and eat one bite, that has potential.

  10. Anonymous12:01 pm

    I'm confused about the fruit juice comment - do they mean things like Cool-aid or are kids not supposed to have orange juice and the like along with milk?

    1. We love having herbal tea as an alternative to juice, for a special treat. Tea parties are fun too! With veggies instead of cookies..

  11. Hmph. I do reward with treats. Sometimes. Not easy coming up with something else.

    1. Stickers, stamps, high fives, hug and kiss, bike ride, nature walk, river trip, new art supplies....we play a game its called " Who's crunching". You wait until someone eats a veggie, then you say, "Stop that crunching! Who is crunching? You stop that right now you little stinker! " The kids love it! All my daycare kids love their veggies now. I actually started playing this game to get my daughter to eat her salad. Once they start to focus on making it crunch then I think its easier for them to chew it up and swallow it. Plus its just such a fun game to play!

  12. Anonymous12:04 pm

    Fruit juice (orange, apple etc.) is little more than sugar-water. Most of the nutrients have been stripped. It is no healthier for you than other sugary drinks. You and your child are better off eating an orange or an apple and having a glass of water.