beijingkids sat down with RD. Leora Martin, a registered dietician from Oasis International Hospital, after her Children’s Nutrition Workshop at Yew Chung International School (YCIS) Beijing. Martin has graciously provided our readers with a recap of what she had discussed in her workshop.
How do we encourage healthy eating in our children?
- Presentation is everything! Your child is bombarded with advertising from fast food chains, well-designed candy wrap and chip packaging every day, so it’s not surprising if your salad and boiled vegetables don’t look appetizing. Try putting in more effort to present colorful varieties of foods in cute packaging, whether pink cupcake holders or bright lunch boxes. Even water can be spiced up if infused with mint leaves, strawberries, cucumbers, or lemons. No time? Carry a funky straw that can be put in any cup or glass!
- Children like choices! Give your child healthy options. If you give your kid a choice of a cucumber with or without a peel, or water in a cup with or without ice, it is no longer about whether your kid wants a cucumber to eat or water to drink, but how he/she wants it. Being able to choose what to eat is exciting for a child as children are not usually given choices in their daily lives. By giving your kid a choice, you can prompt them to eat a healthy food that they previously had little interest in.
- Don’t nag! Avoid negative comments regarding eating or food choices as even innocent comments can be misinterpreted by sensitive children, especially teens. Comments on the amount of food they eat, or how much they suddenly like a certain food (“You really like those potatoes, huh?”), or nagging remarks about how they never eat their vegetables are not helpful. Instead, encourage your child by positively reinforcing their healthy eating habits. Remember that children’s tastes change, and sometimes they will prefer one food over another, and it doesn’t matter if they don’t want to eat something that they had loved last week.
- Set house rules! Every family has their own house rules when it comes to eating, and Martin recommends Ellyn Satter’s theory on the “division of feeding”:
1. Parents/adults decide when food is eaten (e.g. 6pm), where it is eaten (e.g. dining table), and what is eaten (salad and pasta).
2. Children decide whether they want to eat (they have the right to decline) and how much they eat (children naturally know if they’re full).
Martin discourages “force feeding”, which is when children are told to not leave the table before they clear their plates, or when nannies chase children until their bowls are emptied. Families should discourage children to play or become distracted by games, television, or toys as such passive eating is one of the (many) causes of child obesity.
- Everything in moderation! Try not to outlaw anything in the house (unless due to allergies), especially if your child knows the foods you’ve outlawed are common and easily available to other children. No food should be strictly forbidden because it might encourage children to hoard it secretly, oftentimes leading to binging.
- Lead by example! Children are observant, and will immediately notice if you’re eating something different from what you’ve given them. If you’re eating a hamburger with coke, and you serve your child a couscous salad, it raises many questions and labels you a hypocrite. However, if everyone at the table eats the same food, then there is little reason to protest.
Martin reminds families that a healthy lifestyle is not limited to just what is on your plate, but encompasses your lifestyle habits, exercise routine, and attitude towards your own body. For example, moaning about gaining a little weight or having to eat a slice of birthday cake signals to your child that numbers on the scale can define your self worth (how you feel about yourself), and some foods can only be eaten with guilt. Before you go changing your child’s eating habits, make sure to take a good in the mirror and start improving your own first!
Photo: Courtesy of Leora Martin, Pixabay