Eating with the Kids
Childhood is a critical time when it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle. Eating behaviors are developed during these years, and parents or guardians are one of the biggest influences on a child. This puts a big responsibility on parents, which often is intimidating, but with the right tools, eating with kids can be enjoyable, successful, and so rewarding. Research has shown that parents’ eating patterns impact the entire family’s eating patterns. Additionally, eating together as family has been shown to have dozens of benefits on the wellness of your kids (see ‘Eat Together’ section). All in all, making sure that you and your kids have a good experience with food is important and will result in a lifetime of benefits.
How To Get Kids Involved:
Rather than being your child's personal chef, meal and snack preparation can be a team effort. Not only does this save on time (usually), but it also teaches them important skills they will need throughout life to be healthy and self sufficient. So how do you get kids involved, especially when they are at different ages? Following is an example of what children can do through each step of the meal preparation process and the benefits associated with them.
To make things easy here are a few printable resources you can use with your children.
Everything is planned, prepared, and placed on the table. But after all that effort, you discover your child wants nothing to do with the meal. Kids are prone to being picky when it comes to food. Research calls the beginning stages of this ‘neophobia’ or fear of new foods. It can be frustrating, but it’s a natural protective instinct for kids to lower the chances of eating something harmful. There is, however, hope when it comes to those upturned-noses and tantrums. Ellen Satter is the well-known author of How to get your kid to eat, but not too much and she gives tips on how to get kids to develop a good relationship with food without the battles at each meal.
So what is the difference between a good and bad relationship with food?
Eating just until full
Getting excited about finding new types of food to try
Never restricting types of food
Eating foods that are healthy but also taste good to you
Eating everything on your plate whether or not you are hungry
Guilt, embarrassment, or other negative feelings are associated with eating certain foods
Restricting certain foods or dieting
Fear of trying new things
As care givers, you can help your children overcome neophobia by taking away the pressure and increasing exposure to help develop that good relationship with food.
The key is to create the ‘division of responsibility.’
Selecting and buying food
Making and presenting meals
Regulating timing of meals and snacks
Presenting food in a form a child can handle
Creating a low pressure, enjoyable environment for family mealtime
Helping children participate in family meals
Maintaining standards of behavior
How much they eat
Whether or not they eat
This can be challenging because if the child doesn’t eat anything for dinner, parents might feel they are going to starve the child, but kids tend to learn quickly. If they are responsible to sit with the family for the entire meal (whether or not they eat), they will develop a routine and will be more likely to eat just what their body needs. If they are forced to eat more than they are hungry for, they will not develop appropriate hunger cues, and they will try and avoid the foods they are forced to eat, which can lead to a bad relationship with food in the future. Satter
Mealtimes and snacks should be a low stress time for both parents and children. If you take the time to create a low-pressure environment where you can enjoy your child’s company and worry less about how much they eat, they will end up being healthier, less picky, and have a better relationship with food and with you!
For more specific details on Ellen Sauter’s concepts of feeding children at different ages and stages of life visit: How to Feed Children
And for fun kid friendly recipes, visit the Food $ense (SNAP-Ed) KidsCreate! cooking blog. You can find it here: Kids Create
Robson S, Couch S, Peugh J et al. Parent Diet Quality and Energy Intake Are Related to Child Diet Quality and Energy Intake. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(6):984-990. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.02.011.
Satter E. How To Get Your Kid To Eat... But Not Too Much. Palo Alto: Bull Publishing Company; 1987.