Five Tips for Kids Nutrition

August is Kids Nutrition Month! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics calls it Kids Eat Right month but TBH I don’t really like that terminology. If you know me well, you know why, if not then listen up. I’m going into the top five things I’d like to share with you for kids nutrition.

Would you rather listen instead of read? Scroll to the bottom for a link to my Podcast episode that addresses this!

NUMBER ONE – there’s no good or bad food

There is not “right or wrong” when it comes to nutrition. There are foods that do a lot for our body and some that do a little. Everyone emotionally eats and most people would benefit from reconnecting with their body in terms of nutrition, movement, and mental health. When you label food as right or wrong, it places a moral value on the food and therefore the person eating it. 

What’s so bad about moral judgement on food? For one, internalizing moral judgement can cause a mess of things. If I’m a kid and hear that mom is banning carbs and dieting because she thinks carbs are bad. Then, I start to wonder if I’m eating bad and therefore I’m being bad. If I want carbs, I should hide when I eat them so no one sees me being bad. This is just one of the reasons sneak eating can happen.

Right/wrong, clean/dirty, good/bad…they all place certain foods on a pedestal and that does not help anyone make realistic changes. Kids are not going to natively place moral value on food. Society, our dialogue, their friends’ dialogue, and social media, etc will get them thinking this way. I know we cannot protect our kids from hearing things from others. But we can change the discussion, help to nurture a healthy relationship with food, and lead by example as best as we can.

NUMBER TWO – sweets do not have to be earned

If we teach a kid that sweets are to be earned or deserved, it makes them feel out of reach and unattainable. For example, telling a kid to finish their plate so they can have dessert forces them to possibly eat past fullness and starts to disrupt trusting their body to tell them when to stop eating. What to do? Place the dessert right on their plate. This tells them that you trust them to enjoy their meal and their dessert. 

I know that might seem odd and people will ask, but what if all the eat is dessert and just want more dessert? You can choose to offer more or not. Tell the child ahead of time, brownies are on the dinner menu tonight so this is the only dessert for tonight. If they ask for more and you choose to not serve more, you can say something like, “I hear that you really enjoyed your brownie, shall we put that on the menu for Friday nights’ dinner?” 

This teaches trust and helps them understand that desserts are not scarce. However, if it is about budget, it’s okay to discuss that and say I’d like to enjoy more sweets too in the future. Next time it is in our budget, what sweet would you like to enjoy?

NUMBER THREE – do not force finishing their plate

Though this tip combines a bit with tip number two, please do not force a kid to finish their plate. PLEASE just don’t. The number of adults I work with who grew up with the demands to finish their plate is staggering. Whether they were told kids were starving elsewhere and therefore they should eat all their food or they couldn’t have dessert unless they ate all their food…this disrupts intuitive feelings of fullness and once again, trust. 

If you’ve never heard of Ellyn Satter’s Division of responsibility, let me explain it to you. 

“This method encourages you to take leadership with the what, when, and where of feeding and let your child determine how much and whether to eat of what you provide. This applies to every stage in your child’s growing-up years, from infancy through the early years through adolescence.”

This method has been really helpful for me as now I’ve been feeding Lincoln solids for almost a year! (WHAT!?) Some days he eats everything and some days not so much. It takes the stress off of me worrying if he is eating enough. If you struggle with this, talk to your pediatrician and ask for help from a registered dietitian or possibly a feeding program if needed. Also, your doctor will monitor their growth but I’ve found my pediatrician does not ask how many different foods he eats and I know how stressful that can be for parents. Reach out for support!

NUMBER FOUR – let your kids cook with you

There’s a lot of roles that work best for certain ages as your toddler and child grows. Right now, Lincoln is at the stage of wanting to dump, mix, and grab everything. He does saute with me from time to time, but it requires my constant 100% attention because he doesn’t fully grasp the idea that the pan can burn him. Here are a couple of ideas for cooking with littles:

  • Teach them how to use a knife – I’ll have a video series on this soon!
  • Let them ask questions about food without judgement – I used to hear parents say, “that’s a weird question or why would you ask that” when I taught cooking classes. It broke my heart.
  • LET them ask. Let them LEARN. Let them EXPERIMENT.
  • Allow them to cook with you when you’re in the right headspace. If you’re stressed and in a rush, let your kid play in the kitchen if they have to be there. Give them a bowl with a little flour to play with, water, or an empty plastic bowl and spoon.
  • When you want to really involve them in a recipe, make sure you have the time and jobs for them to do
  • If the recipe calls for one cup of chocolate chips, you can measure it in a one cup or let them scoop four times using a ¼ cup 
  • Last tip – if you’re doing a task like mixing let them have a mixing tool and you have one too. If you try to take away the one mixing spatula from your kiddo, most likely they’ll flip out. So make it easy on yourself and clean one extra dish.

NUMBER FIVE – SNACK TIME!! Is all the time right? 

I only have a 16 month old so he’s not asking for snacks all day but it’s basically every 2-2.5 hours…then it’s meal time 2-2.5 hours after that so I guess it’s all day. His communication right now is to go to his high chair or the fridge/pantry and smack the doors while looking at me like, hint hint mom, I’m hungry! My suggestion for snacks is to make them more sustaining and satisfying by pairing two foods together like these.

  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Crackers with cheese
  • Fruit plus cream cheese 
  • Graham crackers and cream cheese is so good too
  • Veggies and hummus or ranch yogurt dip (or just some ranch)
  • Apple sauce and yogurt
  • Granola bar and banana

This is really helpful for adults too! Our body breaks down food to use for all sorts of things. So imagine it gets one food group and that food group is 10 yellow legos..breaks it down, and it’s hungry again pretty quick. But if there’s two food groups — there’s MORE lego colors and more legos to break down. This is especially true when you think about simple verses complex carbohydrates but that’s a story for another day.

BONUS TIP!

Please put less pressure on yourself. This comes straight from my heart. We can want kids to eat nutritiously and grow up with a healthy relationship with food. We can teach them that some foods do a lot of different jobs in the body and some do a little. An Oreo does a little and an apple does a lot. Neither is superior and both can fit in your life but guilting yourself about this is not-sustainable or pleasant.

For example, I went to some breweries this past weekend and packed a full lunch box of food for Linc. Guess what? I forgot it. We stopped at a Rite Aid and I found….

  • Lunchable, ritz cheese crackers, plain cheerios, fruit cups in 100% juice, a Nutrigrain bar, and a cheese stick. I had beet chips in my bag and Lincoln was fine. 

He ate more “convenience” foods than normal for him but it’s OKAY. HE IS OKAY. I think the pressure we put on ourselves and each other to max out healthy in everything causes more harm than good. Yes, someone may have judged me for feeding my kid a Nutrigrain bar because GASP IT HAS 12 grams of ADDED SUGAR! It’s 3 tsp, he has that once in a while and we move on.

There are of course times when nutrition status may be a higher concern, you feel like things aren’t going well, or your kid is stuck on five foods and you are at your wits ends. There’s help out there for you and like I mentioned above talk to your pediatrician and get a referral to a registered dietitian or a feeding therapy program in your area.

I really get it, feeding and being responsible for kids and their food intake can feel like a lot but it can be done with a lot less stress if you apply a couple of the tips above. Let me know which tip would work best for you!

Did you know I have a podcast now!? It’s called The Intuitive Kitchen and I did a full episode going into these tips in more details. Take a listen wherever you enjoy your podcasts or click here for Apple, here for Google play, or here for Spotify.

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