Truth be told, fussy eaters are actually made right at your kitchen table.
If moms and dads aren’t careful, snacks like cookies, cakes and crackers can easily become a fixation for kids ages 2 – 6, according to a recent report published in Health Affairs. Why? Because today’s busy families are on the go more often than not, and we eat in a quick-fix culture. That sometimes translates into lots and lots of snacks, i.e., little kids walking around with baggies filled with chips, grazing their way through the day, and not eating come mealtime. Even in this era of “obesity awareness,” we continue to raise children in a munch-munch culture: Kids will reach for snack treats about three times a day, according to the study that involved some 31,337 kids during a 30-year period, with some of them snacking as much as six times a day. Sure, our intense focus on childhood obesity has many parents stocking their pantries and fridges with healthier snack options, but away from home, the snacks still spill forth here and there from after-soccer treats to play dates, day cares and church functions. Yet another recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows that despite efforts to curb snacking behaviors among kids, they remain mostly unchanged. Here in the South, where rates of childhood obesity are highest, less nutritious food is prevalent, but parents have grown weary of hearing that they need to feed their children better, cook more deliciously (with less time!) or put kids on diets. What to do? Just aim to try, says author Ellyn Satter in her book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family (Kelcy Press; 2008). Satter also cites several traps that can cause eating woes at your table. Here are seven common feeding mistakes parents can make.
Insisting on a clean plate
Most typically, healthy young children eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They follow natural, internal cues and you don’t need to alter them by insisting they eat past the point of fullness. Allowing your kids to be in tune with their hunger and fullness cues will allow them to have an easy relationship with food and avoid overeating as they grow older. Just make sure meals happen when kids are hungry!
Bribing with sweets
Coercing kids to eat their vegetables or other items they don’t like is fruitless most of the time, and parents can resort to bribery: “Eat your beans and you can have dessert!” The problem is this methodology confirms for kids that vegetables are yucky and that dessert is desirable. Many studies have shown that preference for undesirable foods decreases when kids are given rewards for eating them. Dead-end street!
Banning sweets altogether
The truth about childhood obesity is out: too much sugar in drinks and sweets can lead to extra pounds. It’s no surprise that some parents have completely outlawed sweets, but that’s a pretty extreme measure. In order to help your kids have a healthy relationship with food (desserts included), moderation is in order. While there’s nothing wrong with limiting sweets and controlling the kids’ have access to them, you certainly shouldn’t outlaw them altogether. Studies have shown that when kids are restricted from eating cookies or other snack foods, their desire to eat the snacks increases, and they’re likely to overeat them every chance they get.
Too much junk too soon
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that kids with older siblings have more access to junk foods (soda, potato chips, cookies, cake and candy) than children without older siblings. Because little kids look up to older siblings, they’ll eat what their big brother or sister eat, too. Younger siblings are exposed to unhealthy foods much earlier than a firstborn. Just be aware.
Offering too many high-fat snacks
Constant snacking throughout the day is the number one wrecker of eating a good meal. The other thing that can destroy an appetite is a big soda just before dinner. When kids are less hungry, they’re less willing to try new foods you so painstakingly are trying to introduce. Keep on reducing the amount of high-carbohydrate snacks your kids have access to and provide more of what you want them to have: fruits and veggies!
Letting kids drink too much
A study in the journal Pediatrics says that today’s kids take in 10 – 15 percent of their total daily calories from sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks and 100-percent fruit juice. Most of these drinks contain empty calories, meaning they provide simple sugars but little else in the way of nutrients. How about a nice glass of ice water instead?
Serving kids dinners they absolutely don’t like
Your vision of a healthy, satisfying meal might include plain grilled chicken, fish, salads and plenty of steamed veggies, but chances are young kids will find these foods bland, unappealing or downright disgusting. While many parents believe that children should eat what the whole family eats, it’s true that taste buds evolve as kids get older and that parents are smart to recognize this truth. Try serving home-cooked meals and eating as a family. Make it a nice time and they just might eat a nice dinner.