When it comes to our children, there is nothing we wouldn’t do to ensure that they grow and thrive to their greatest capacities. Here are a few tips for staying mentally grounded should you ever find yourself battling for “one more bite of broccoli!”
BY: CRYSTAL KARGES, MS, RDN, IBCLC
One of the most important components in raising children may very well be the nurturing of their lives. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Providing nutritious foods is a tangible way of meeting a basic need. Yet with information overload that parents encounter daily, this responsibility can become convoluted, especially when feeding your kids.
Shepherding children in a culture of overwhelming choices takes the simplicity and joy out of something pleasurable and enjoyable. Family meals for instance. Many parents deal with mealtime “battles”, worrying that their child is not receiving adequate nutrition. They even devise schemes to somehow fit in missing components.
As parents, we want nothing but the best for our child. Monitoring their nutrition intake or playing “food police” seems like it naturally ensures putting optimal foods in their bodies.
But when push comes to shove, is it really necessary to make sure your child is hitting every food group at each meal? How can you trust that your child is in fact receiving adequate nutrition when they seem to have hardly touched their plate? What about the child that only seems to gravitate toward dessert type foods and turns their nose up at vegetables?
While these are legitimate concerns, here are a few reminders to help you stay level-headed during those moments of conflict:
DON’T DOUBT YOURSELF
Culturally based messages constantly bombard us when it comes to nutrition, parenting, and the health of our children. This can influence feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty in everything we do. It ranges from what we choose to feed our little ones to how we discipline and everything in between. In the midst of our deepest insecurities and questions about how we feed our children lies a basic truth:
Your child has the keen ability to intuitively eat according to what their bodies might need.
ABSOLUTE RULES DO NOT EXIST
Raising an optimally nourished child involves far less guesswork and much more empowering. Allowing your child to eat according to their natural hunger and fullness cues is an effective aspect of nurturing a healthy relationship with food and body from an early age. Optimizing nutrition for children involves the consistent provision of enjoyable and wholesome meals rather than hyper focusing on rules, restrictions, or regulations at meal times. We have the inherent responsibility of determining what, where and when to feed our children and can leave the feeding aspect entirely up to the child.
TRUST IN THEIR NATURAL INSTINCTS
As undefined as this may seem, a child should be enabled to decide how much to eat and whether or not they would like to try any of the foods that are being offered at meals and snack times. In the absence of trying to regulate or force a child to eat a certain amount or consume particular foods, a child can innately and effectively regulate exactly what their body needs for optimum nutrition intake. Allowing your child to autonomously develop their feeding abilities and tune in to their own bodies can help take the guesswork, confusion, and frustrations that are often experienced during meal times.
STAY AWARE AND ADJUST WHEN NEEDED
The truth is, there are no rigid guidelines for how or what your child should eat. Consistently providing a variety of foods alongside familiar foods supports your child with normal and healthy growth. You will likely observe variances in how your child eats, and that is perfectly acceptable and normal. Some nights, you may find your child ravenous – eating everything on their plate and asking for more. At other meal times, you may find your child eating minimally or avoiding something altogether. And that is okay too.
While we tend to interfere out of the best intentions for our children, building an appropriate feeding relationship begins by trusting in your child’s ability to eat. Refraining from the impulse to troubleshoot what our children eat can take unnecessary pressure off of both parents and children. It will cultivate a healthy and respectful relationship with food and body for years to come. And remember –
“Raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.” – Bruno Bettelheim
HEADER IMAGE: DANIELLE MACINNES
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.