How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy this Holiday Season
By Katja Leccisi –
Guiding your children towards having a healthy relationship to food and eating.
As the holidays approach, food very often has a significant place in the many social activities that are on the agenda. There will likely be all sorts of things to eat, available at various hours, as the usual schedule gets put aside. There will be foods that you may judge to be healthy or not. For many parents, this can be a stressful time. We moms and dads may worry about whether there will be food that our children will like at family get-togethers and events. We may also be concerned about how much our children are eating, of which foods (as in cookies versus vegetables).
I propose that our primary goal, when it comes to food and eating and our children, is to raise healthy eaters. What is a healthy eater? A healthy eater takes pleasure in eating. She is conscious of what and why and how much she eats. She eats the right amount for her own body’s needs.She eats many different foods,and so is more likely to get all the nutrients she needs.She enjoys trying and eating newfoods, and even knows how to planm eals,and shop,and cook.
As we guide our children towards this long term goal, there will be moments, and meals, where the immediate situation distracts us. What do we do when our fussy child refuses to eat the meal offered at Grandma’s house? How do we deal with a child who is looking at a plate of Christmas cookies?
More often than not, especially as our fuse shortens, one overhears phrases such as: Eat one more bite for mommy. What a good boy, you ate everything on your plate. No dessert for you, you didn’t eat enough dinner. No, you may not have more, you have eaten enough. While all of us may say things like this at some point or another, they are not ideal.
I would like to introduce a concept to you, a philosophy that has guided me personally as a mom, and professionally as a nutritionist, so much so that it inspired me to develop The Four Steps to Raising Healthy Eaters. This concept, called The Division of Responsibility in Feeding, was developed by nutritionist and family therapist Ellyn Satter (Ellynsatterinstitute.org). Very briefly, it defines who is responsible for what, as pertains to feeding and eating. Whether it’s for toddlers or teenagers, the parents decide what, when, and where to feed their children, while the children are responsible for how much and whether they eat. Yes, you read that correctly: the children decide how much and even whether they eat at any given meal or snack time.
Don’t worry, this does not mean that they get to eat whatever they want whenever they want it! You, as the parent, have the responsibility of setting structure and routines around when and where food is eaten, and you get to choose the overall menu. But after that, your job is done. Once the buffet is set (by you or your relatives), sit down, relax, enjoy your meal with your family, and just let your children eat! But I know, that is not always easy.
Why is it so difficult for many parents to let their children eat without any pressuring, coercing, or rewarding? In my professional experience, the number one reason I see is that parents are worried about how much and/or what their children are eating. It may help you worry less if you know this: in the early years of life, all emotionally and physically healthy kids who have consistent access to enough food will eat only what they need to. They will self-regulate. They will seek food when they are hungry, and stop eating when they’ve had enough. Respecting their bodies” signals is fundamental to having a healthy relationship with food. Our job is to help them keep this innate ability to listen to their bodies.
I invite you to take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. You have plenty of time to look at your family’s eating habits, and to work on them throughout the year. Try not to let your worries about food and eating interfere with what this holiday time is all about: enjoying the company of the people we love, and sharing food as a way of connection. Happy holidays!
About the author:
Katja LeccisiI is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, as well as a former board certified lactation consultant and La Leche League Leader. A mom to young adult daughter, and stepmom to two school-aged kids. Katja says, “I understand the realities and challenges of feeding children, and I firmly believe that nurturing a healthy relationship to food and eating is important. My yoga and meditation practices, and my active outdoor life help keep me grounded.” Her first book, How to Feed Your Kids: Four Steps to Raising Healthy Eaters,, was recently released, and is available for purchase at Amazon.com. Contact her and join the conversation at www.Leccisi.com or www.facebook.com/howtofeedyourkids.
Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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