GJ HEALTH: Encouraging diet diversity while raising a healthy child
Free Press Health Columnist
Providing kids with a healthy diet in this day and age can pose a challenge. Well-intentioned parents are faced with battles at the grocery store and table when confronted with kids who, having been bombarded by junk food companies’ marketing, fill the cart with unhealthy options masquerading as nourishment: chips, soda, sweets, candy, etc.
Although parents cannot have full control over what their kids consume day in and day out, it certainly is possible to have a positive influence on their diet, especially when preparing food at home and eating meals together.
Developing a varied palate and a taste for good food starts with a baby’s first exposure to solid food. In our society, there is hyper-sensitivity toward providing allergen-containing foods as well as concern over the order in which to present foods, which ironically often begins with refined white rice cereal that lacks nutrients found in whole foods. These concerns may be healthy and necessary at times, but they can also make it difficult to raise a child who has a healthy taste for a variety of foods and who, thus, enjoys a diet diverse in nutrients as well as flavor.
If we take a look at other cultures, what are they doing differently? In most cases, they are giving their children exactly what they are eating at the table themselves … mashed with a fork, pureed in a blender. In this manner, kids learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
Starting when the child is very young and keeping consistent and fair guidelines around food in the household is a good place to begin for increased receptivity. Second, patience is key when introducing children to new foods. When a child is young, they often need to try a food many times before fully accepting it, up to 10-15 times.
Stages of acceptance include looking at food, playing with food, tasting and spitting out food, and eventually swallowing the food, keeping it down and eventually, asking for more. Eating at the table as a family is also encouraging as young children tend to observe and follow the lead of their parents and older siblings. Sometimes there will be foods a child will never accept, and this is OK because we all have certain foods that we do not care for. But children can and will develop a varied palate if they are given the opportunity and support to do so.
Registered dietitian Ellyn Satter has provided some more specific guidelines called the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding” that can be quite helpful when dealing with kids and food. They are as follows: (toddler through adolescents)
• The parent is responsible for what, when, where.
• The child is responsible for how much and whether.
These guidelines give the parents ultimate control of what goes on the plate while still giving the child some say as well. Allowing kids to be a part of the decision will increase their likelihood to cooperate. Do you want carrots or beets? Peanut butter or hummus? The parent provides the healthy options, but the child still gets to participate in choosing.
With all this effort to raise a healthy child, there are some factors that we cannot control without being domineering and unreasonable. As kids grow older, we cannot be with them as they are exposed to all foods offered to them. It is probably not a good idea to join them in the school cafeteria and monitor their food trades, but we can provide a positive environment surrounding food and continue to offer good foods when eating together at home. It is all about finding balance and doing the best we can.
Jessica Stieler, R.D., is a nutritionist at Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions, located at 2139 N. 12th St. #7. For more information, call 970-256-8449.
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