family guide

Helpful Suggestions: For Parents of Elementary Students

This article was written by Cortney Modelewski, MA, LPC professional counselor at Cognitive Behavior Solutions and an active member of SMEDA.

For Parents of Elementary Students:  Working to Create a Positive Relationship with Food

My daughter decided she didn't like jelly after coming home from a sleepover. Her friend declared hatred of all fruit-flavored spreads, and my daughter soon followed suit and has not eaten jelly, jam, preserves, or marmalade within the last three years.
    
She is eight, and she continues to struggle with the conflicts between her wariness of food, her environment, and her hunger. These challenges are typical of elementary age children, especially younger ones.  Dovey et al (2008) provided a review of the research on children's eating behaviors. They outline the difference between what people call “picky eating,” which is having inadequate variation in diet, and “neophobia,” which is refusal or reluctance to try new foods. Environmental (i.e. home, school, and culture) and genetic factors play roles in how and why children develop these eating behaviors.

While you can't change your child's genetics, you can make changes to their environment. Here are a few tips from my household, which consists of a couple of vegetarians and a meat-and-potatoes guy, who collectively have food neophobia, sensory processing issues, food intolerance, and a food allergy.

1.    Caretakers are role models. I am not a big fan of breakfast. My child has started to say she doesn't like breakfast. I decided to suck it up and eat some toast in the morning because I want my child to eat breakfast before going to school.
2.    Enlist authorities. Our pediatrician gave my child the same speech I had given, but my child responded to the pediatrician because she's a doctor. She also started eating red peppers after a dietitian came to her school and talked about how vegetables are awesome.
3.    Make food fun! Kids like to make their own creations, and also like it when they have surprises at mealtime.
4.    Negotiate packed lunch menus. Say, “Would you like baby carrots or cucumbers in your lunch?” If my daughter has a better idea, such as broccoli, I am all for it.
5.    Try to have everyone in the family eat the same things. My husband may throw some meat on his plate of spaghetti, but we're all still eating spaghetti. This ties into the first tip. Also, your family does not pay you to be a short order cook, so don't do it. It's more frustrating and reinforces problematic beliefs and behaviors your child may have.
6.    It's okay to be frustrated when your child doesn't eat, but try not to fight. I have had many dinner wars in my time as a parent, especially after a cooked meal has followed a twelve-hour workday. Not worth it. Ask your child to taste the food – which doesn't need to include chewing and swallowing – and then drop it for the night.
7.    Unless you have a specific diet due to religious beliefs, there is no reason to call food good or bad, and if a person in your family has a medical problem that restricts certain foods, giving the restricted menu to your entire family every so often may help the child and others in the family understand the need for meals.

If you are concerned about your child's eating habits, do not be afraid to make an appointment with their primary-care provider to discuss these concerns.  UWHealth (2014) notes some red flags including weight loss, choking on food, frequent complaints about stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea after eating, and moodiness. Your child may have a treatable eating disorder, anxiety disorder, or medical condition.

References and Resources

Terence M. Dovey, Paul A. Staples, E. Leigh Gibson, Jason C.G. Halford, Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: A review, Appetite, Volume 50, Issue 2, 2008, Pages 181-193, ISSN 0195-6663, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.009.

University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority [UWHealth] (2014). Health facts for you.  https://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/parenting/518.pdf

We Can! Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/index.htm

Back to Basics: Positive Eating (General Guide for Families and Individuals)

This month’s article was written by Jillane Moffit, LLMSW, an active professional member of SMEDA.

Positive Eating

     The kitchen is a great place to help develop positive eating habits. Speaking positively about healthy foods and role-modeling balanced eating is essential in helping develop a healthy relationship with food.

 Plan and prepare meals

      Children can learn about positive eating by playing a helpful role in meal planning and preparing family meals, such as washing vegetables, doing some mixing, reading recipes and chopping ingredients…  Cook meals at home and try to encourage your child to help you. Involve your kids in the shopping, too.  Involving the whole family in preparing food will lead to more support for what is served at the table.

      Talk about foods from the five food groups and what they do for your body. For instance, “this apple is so crunchy and delicious – its flesh is helping to keep me staying regular and it’s filling me up with its nutritious sweetness.” Or “these carrot sticks contain a super nutrient called beta carotene that helps my eyes stay sharp and focused.” Or “this delicious glass of milk contains calcium – it helps my bones and teeth stay strong.”

 Eat breakfast

     Breakfast is the first important meal of the day.  Encourage your child to eat a nutritious breakfast every day, using foods from the five food groups.  Enjoying a healthy breakfast gives you and your child the best start to your day. When breakfast is a part of the family routine it provides more energy and better concentration.

 Continue mealtime routines

     The experience at the dinner table can have an impact on your approach to food later in life. Follow your hunger cues and offer a balanced diet. The benefits of meals go beyond nutrition.  Sharing food and talking around the table encourages other healthy behaviors.  Mealtimes are an opportunity for children and adults to build stronger bonds with those closest to them. It also gives them the chance to receive the support they need to minimize negative influences.

 Don’t forget about physical activity

     Being physically active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.  Make time to play outside or be active.  Be a role model and make physical activity an event by going for a walk, riding a bike, playing in the park or kicking a ball around.  Start increasing incidental exercise such as walking to school or shops, taking the stairs (not the elevator), sweeping the path, or doing some gardening.

 References

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Australia’s food & nutrition 2012. Cat. no. PHE163. Canberra: AIHW.

 Berger, E. (2013, Sept. 27). About Kids Health. Promoting positive eating habits.  http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

Harper, K.U., Sanders, K.M. (1975) The effect of adult’s eating on young children’s acceptance of unfamiliar foods. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 20: 206-14. 10. 

NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care 2007-2008. 5.

 ‘Who’s feeding your toddler?’ Infant & Toddler Forum survey 2010.

 www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au