With childhood obesity and related chronic disease rates skyrocketing, prominent registered-dietitian experts urge parents to worry less about WHAT we are feeding our children, and instead, focus more on HOW we are feeding them.
This change in approach, presented during a live Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters webinar on May 18 hosted by Dairy Council of California, should help parents reduce childhood obesity and end the dinnertime drama that both parents and their children have grown to dread. Access a recording of the webinar at http://learningtimesevents.org/dairycouncilofca/. For more tips on raising healthy eaters, visit the MealsMatter.org website.
Janet Helm, M.S., R.D., author of NutritionUnplugged.com, opened the Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters webinar with data from the American Dietetic Association's "State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity" report, showing that families are more aware of what they should not eat than what they should eat. "We need to move from what we eat to how we eat and take a positive approach to feeding our children," said Helm, a mother of twins. "Doing so means we'll have better-nourished children with healthier attitudes about food."
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietitian who created RaiseHealthyEaters.com and focuses on child-feeding issues, urged parents to focus on the long term when it comes to feeding, and relinquish some control back to children. "Parents should set the meal times, offer healthy foods from all the food groups and model healthy eating habits," said Jacobsen. "But, ultimately, children should be given the opportunity to choose what they want to eat and how much at mealtimes."
This approach, outlined in Ellyn Satter's "Division of Responsibility in Feeding Model" and presented during the Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters webinar, has long been held as the gold standard among nutrition experts for feeding children. However, this approach for developing a specific strategy to raise healthy eaters has not necessarily reached the mainstream parent.
"The long-term benefits of having a feeding strategy in place can't be measured just in fruit and vegetable consumption," said Jacobsen. "But you'll know it's working when your kids enjoy eating and want to come to the table."
"Getting children to the table is essential to raise healthy eaters," says Jill Castle, registered dietitian, pediatric nutrition specialist and author of JustTheRightByte.com. "But parents need to also use positive feeding approaches at the table -- not tactics that can backfire and lead to negative interactions and nutrition problems in the long run. While there's a world of influences sending potentially negative messages about food to your child, family meals provide over 28,000 opportunities for parents to instill lasting healthy eating habits."
Family meals were also another major focus of the Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters webinar and registered dietitian Andrea Garen, mother of two, addressed some common barriers to family meals. "As parents, we have to let go of the idea of the perfect, cooked-from-scratch meal," said Garen. "If half of your meal is take-out chicken or a simple sandwich, and you serve it with salad or fruit and milk to drink, it is OK. You are eating a balanced meal together as a family, and that's what is most important."
The following child-feeding tips were compiled during the Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters webinar to help parents focus on how to feed children, counteract childhood obesity and end dinnertime drama.
TEN SIMPLE WAYS PARENTS CAN EAT, PLAY, LOVE TO RAISE HEALTHY EATERS
1.Focus more on HOW to feed kids versus WHAT to feed kids.
2.Adopt a feeding strategy, and use Ellyn Satter's "Division of Responsibility in Feeding Model," in which parents decide the "what, when and where" of feeding and children decide "whether" and "how much" they'll eat.
3.Trust children to respond to their own hunger and fullness cues.
4.Make time for family meals -- breakfast, lunch or dinner -- and serve the same meal for adults and children. No short-order cooks!
5.Take a positive approach to food; don't talk about foods as good or bad.
6.Be a healthy role model. Try new foods, make healthy choices, drink milk and eat a variety of foods from all food groups.
7.Don't bargain, bribe or reward kids with food.
8.Expose children to new foods 10 - 15 times or more. Pair a new food with a favorite for a more positive experience.
9.Give kids choice -- let them choose between two healthy options, like carrot or celery sticks with yogurt-based dip as a first course or applesauce or pears for dessert.
10.From an early age, get children involved in planning and preparing healthy meals.
Access a recording of the webinar at http://learningtimesevents.org/dairycouncilofca/. For more tips on raising healthy eaters, visit the MealsMatter.org website.