The Nourished Child | America's Childhood Nutrition Expert
Jill Castle is an American children nutrition expert. An author, speaker, consultant, blogger and podcaster with expertise in pediatric nutrition. In this blog, Jill podcasts to inspire you to feed and nourish your child, inside and out and gives child's nutrition tips for maintaining your kid's health.
Partly because they seem to be ever-present in our world. At school, church, the bank and even at your favorite healthcare provider’s office.
As one mom said to me, “Everywhere we go there is some kind of food available for my child to eat, and often it’s a sweet treat.”
I have no doubt that your child will be tempted by their lure. This shouldn’t baffle you entirely because there are reasons for this. From an early flavor preference to the abundant exposure to sweets, many kids will favor the flavor.
In fact, if they exist in your child’s diet, then you should understand how they gain ground, as well as, how they impact your child’s health.
All this understanding will help you manage sweets when they present themselves in your child’s diet.
9 Things to Know about Sweets and Kids
I’ve sorted out the nine most important things you need to know, so you can stay balanced in your approach and strategies around treats. If you really want to raise a healthy eater, you’ll need to have a handle on this aspect of your child’s eating.
Children are naturally inclined to sweet flavors
Children are born with taste buds that are used to sugary flavor (amniotic fluid is sweet). If your baby was breastfed, that taste was reinforced through breast milk.
This natural exposure in your womb and your baby’s first feeding explains how sweet preference begins.
Early introduction (before age 2) increases preference
As I mentioned, research has shown that sweet tastes are familiar at birth. Studies have also shown that babies experience relaxation and calmness after tasting something sweet.
The more sweets kids eat, the stronger the liking of them, and perhaps, the craving for them.
The pleasure response in the brain is turned on by highly palatable foods, such as those containing sugar, fat, and salt. In other words, these food components trigger feel-good brain chemicals including dopamine.
Once children experience pleasure (associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain’s reward pathway) from eating certain foods, they may feel an urge to eat them again.
The FDA regulates and guarantees the purity and safety of artificial food colorings. As it stands in the United States today, food colors and dyes are considered safe for human consumption.
However, some children experience behavioral changes, such as hyperactivity, when they consume foods with artificial food colors. If your child lives with ADHD, they may experience worsening behavior when eating foods with food dyes..
What does happen, though, is that your child may get jacked up on sugary foods (remember, dopamine kicks in and your child feels great), then quickly crashes as his blood sugar plummets from the high of concentrated sweets.
This quick decline in blood sugar can elicit behavioral changes such as tantrums, acting out, whining, or other negative behavior. This explains why some kids appear to be more sensitive to sugar than others.
Candy contains empty calories
Candy can certainly ramp up the calorie contribution to your child’s diet, but may offer few nutrients. In other words, there is little nutrition or nutrients per calorie consumed, also known as poor nutrient density.
The younger your child is, the more important it is to make sure that every bite counts for nutrition.
Too much sugar may contribute to weight problems in children
I don’t need to drone on and on about this one, but the overconsumption of sweets is tied to the development of weight challenges in children.
This certainly has an almost psychological backbone, but when kids feel deprived (their perception, of course) of the foods they like, they may compensate with sneak eating.
This is why I believe it’s a good strategy to have a sweet policy in your home, which ideally outlines a plan for when sweets will be served, and identifies the frequency and amounts that will uphold your child’s health.
How do you manage sweets?
Need More Help?
If you need a better food balance in your home and want “systems” to carry out a healthier food environment in your home, check out my self-study program called The Nourished Child Project.
What foods can make your child smarter? Truth be told, there are a lot of foods that can improve learning, understanding and memory. Brain power relies on many factors, including physical activity, sleep and food.
As a pediatric nutritionist, I work with babies, toddlers, children and teens. Each of them has a growing brain, which makes nutrition and food choices an important consideration.
In this article, I’ll cover some of the most nutritious foods for the brain. I’ll tell you why they’re important with quick tips for incorporating them more regularly into your child’s meal plan.
Good Brain Food for Kids
Want to know a little secret?
You’ll read a ton of articles on the best foods for the brain, but many of them miss a big point.
Especially when it comes to kids.
Rather than focusing on the whole child (food + feeding + developmental stage), what you’ll typically see is a list of the best brain foods.
I don’t think that’s enough.
Why? Because you can load your child’s plate with the most nutritious brain-boosting foods, but unless he’s willing to eat them, it doesn’t matter.
Am I right?!
How to Feed for Better Brain Power
We all want our kids to have a healthy brain. We all want our kids to be as smart as possible. To learn, pay attention, and remember what they’ve learned. We want to maximize their cognitive capabilities. In other words, we want them to soar intellectually.
Food is quite powerful in this endeavor, but so is feeding.
The brain uses nutrients for a variety of tasks. In babies, nutrients such as omega-3 DHA helps build the framework of the brain. This framework allows the information highway (or, neurotransmission) to establish and transmit messages across the brain throughout childhood.
During the teen years, pruning begins, getting rid of the unused pathways to make way for more efficient memory, understanding and decision-making.
If you’ve raised a teen, you can attest to the forgetfulness that is common in this age group. That’s the brain pruning and re-establishing new roadwork for information transmission.
In children with ADHD, we see how important nutrition is to the developing brain. We have research that tells us learning, focus and attention suffer when kids don’t get adequate nutrition.
If you have a child with ADHD you’ll want to read this article to help you fine tune his overall diet.
7 Foods to Build Healthy Brains
While there are a number of foods that can be tied to brain health, I’ve outlined what I consider some of the top foods that can strengthen your child’s brain power today, and promote brain health for tomorrow:
These little blue gems are full of flavenoids, plant compounds found in most fruits and vegetables. They help improve your memory, ability to learn and general thinking. Flavenoids also help slow the age-related decreases in mental ability.
Blueberries are an incredibly convenient and versatile food. Include blueberries on cereal, in salads, yogurt parfaits, in a smoothie, or just grab a handful. Any form of blueberries will do: fresh, frozen, dried, or freeze-dried.
Eating olives regularly may lead to less brain deterioration over time. That’s because mono-unsaturated fats (or MUFAs) promote the transportation of more oxygen to the brain.
Saturated fats (from meats, dairy, fried foods), by comparison, may stiffen cell membranes.
The mono-unsaturated fat found in olives and other foods like salmon gets incorporated into all of our body cells. MUFAs are considered “good” fats and it’s good practice to include them in your child’s regular diet.
Use olives as snack food, as a side dish in lunch boxes, or as a pre-dinner appetizer. And don’t forget its side product, olive oil. Also a great addition to your child’s diet.
Nuts are also a source of mono-unsaturated fat. They have another important nutrient, vitamin E, which reduces the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s by squelching brain cell-damaging elements called free radicals.
A little bit goes a long way. Make sure to pay attention to the portion size when eating nuts.
You can add nuts to cereal or as a yogurt topper, snack on them alone, or sprinkle on top of salad or cooked veggies. If you have a nut-allergic child, seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds offer similar benefits. Learn how to prevent peanut allergy here.
Eating fish regularly seems to have an effect on brain size (mass), and may slow down the aging process of the brain.
The oils (omega-3 fats) present in fatty fish help enhance problem solving, concentration, and memory.
Get the fish habit started early. While the goal is to offer 2 servings of fatty fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel, trout) per week, the truth is even getting one serving a week is progress in the right direction.
Limit mercury-containing fish like swordfish.
Dark chocolate has been found to increase blood flow to the brain, and improve thinking and mood, mostly due to the presence of cocoa flavenols (an antioxidant) and caffeine.
Think about sweets—if you’re offering them, choose sweets that add to health, not take away from it.
Naturally rich in healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), avocado improves blood flow to the brain, a natural way to enhance brain ability.
Mash avocado on sandwiches in lieu of mayonnaise. Chop it into cubes as a finger food, or serve a halved avocado with a spoon and squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of salt (my personal favorite).
Children have a developing memory center, which is forming during the first 6 years of life. Choline is an important nutrient in this process.
One yolk has about 200 milligrams of choline, which meets or nearly meets the needs of children up to 8 years.
Eggs also contain iron, folate, vitamin A and D (if enhanced), which are important for normal growth and development.
Children can have an egg a day. Keep the variety coming with scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, loaded with veggies in frittatas, quiches and omelets, and of course, included in baked goods.
Check with your healthcare provider if your child is dealing with a high cholesterol level.
How will you incorporate these top brain foods into your child’s diet?
When I was growing up, my mother served “family-style” meals. We would set the table with plates, glasses and silverware, and my mother would place our meal components in the center of the table.
My father would start with the entrée, serve himself, and pass the platter to the next person on his right. This went on until all items had been passed around to each person and everyone had food.
You can imagine how efficient we were with getting the food around the table, especially when we were hungry! This was effective for my family then, and I use it with my own kids now.
In this article, you’ll learn about family-style meals, their benefits, and the basic blueprint for setting them up in your home.
Why I Like Family-Style Meals:
I like family-style meals for several reasons:
They provide young children with opportunities to hone their motor skills, such as balance, passing platters, holding bowls and scooping food, for example.
Kids are able to learn and practice their table manners, such as please, thank you, and other courtesies, as well as patience.
It creates an opportunity for kids to choose which foods to eat and the amount which works for their body.
Trust is promoted, such as acknowledging your child’s capability with serving himself and allowing your child to choose foods and amounts that are right for him/her.
Family-Style Meals & the Division of Responsibility
Family-style meals honor Satter’s Division of Responsibility with Feeding. They allow your child to choose whether and how much she will eat at mealtime, and appreciates the individual preferences and eating style of your child.
When food items are passed around the table (we pass to the right at our house too), all options get handed around, and each child holds, looks at, and smells all the individual foods at the table.
Even if your picky eater snubs the broccoli, she still needs to be polite and pass it around, experiencing broccoli in the meantime.
Who Can Participate in Family-Style Meals (& When)?
Young toddlers can begin to practice the family-style meal at the table with you. It’s appropriate to allow your toddler more independence and a voice in what and how much she eats.
For children under the age of 5 years, parents can hold the platters and bowls for their child and walk around behind them, asking if they would like some of such and such, and how much.
By age 5, many kids can be independent with family-style meals, holding and passing platters and bowls and serving themselves. Of course, if your child needs help, support him.
If You’re Used to Pre-Plating Food
Many parents are “food platers.” In other words, they pre-plate food for their children. They serve up the meal on a plate, selecting the food items and the amounts for their child to eat.
Often, this practice is a habit, and without much thought for the long term effects.
While some kids are OK with someone else in charge of their meal selections, other kids may not be.
Plating may feel controlling or restrictive, leading kids to react in ways that are counter-productive to their health (like overeating). “Plating” may also overshoot kid portion-sizes.
I used to be a mom who plated her kids’ food. You might like to read about my experience!
The Amazing Shift at the Table
I encourage parents to try family-style meals and see how their kids react. Many families tell me that their kids eat better and mealtime is more relaxed—even enjoyable!
That may be due to the shift in control from the parent to the child, diffusing the drama at the meal table.
What if My Kid Eats Too Much?
Some parents worry their child will be out of control with their eating, taking large amounts of food.
My experience has been that kids do love the freedom of serving themselves. Some kids can get carried away initially, but this passes as they get used to this style. Eventually, they relax about getting enough to eat and tune into their own hunger.
Remember, this is a learning process! Kids don’t know how much to eat, but can learn a lot about their appetite and regulating it through family meals.
A Word about Balanced Meals
The content of the meal is where you can optimize nutrition! Offer as many food groups as possible on the table and make the health quality of the meal a priority.
For example, if you’re serving fried chicken, make sure to balance that with a vegetable, a whole grain, fruit and low-fat milk or milk substitute. All foods fit, but use strategy in your meal planning.
The Benefits of Family-Style Meals
Family-style meals have a great benefit for children. Studies suggest children may eat better and healthier, learn positive social skills, and negotiate nutrition in meaningful ways with this approach.
In this article, you’ll learn what it takes to get kids to eat right, including a positive attitude, offering healthy food, using positive food parenting skills, and cultivating a robust sense of self.
As a pediatric nutritionist, I know the attention you give to food selection and feeding your child will lay the foundation of your child’s future of health and wellness.
Why It’s Hard to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
I could go on and on about the variety of reasons it’s hard to feed kids today. Here’s a few of them:
Both kids and parents have busy schedules leading to a lack of time for shopping, preparing and eating food
Picky eaters and their picky palates make feeding them time-consuming and challenging
Walk the talk. It takes time. Remember, your child is absorbing (through osmosis it seems!) your habits, lifestyle and attitudes.
You Can Be a Great Feeder
Following these principles will help you really raise a child who is a confident, healthy and happy eater.
I know it may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it. Chip away at each of these principles — they are effective.
One of the reasons parents are overwhelmed with feeding their kids is that it isn’t simply about getting your child to eat healthy food. Or, getting healthy food on the table. Or teaching your child which foods he should eat.
It’s so much more.
That’s where the overwhelm comes into play.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Do You Need More Help?
If you want or need more help, I have several resources for you:
The Nourished Child Project: a self-education program designed for parents of children aged four to fourteen. The program helps you set up a food system, feeding strategy and healthy lifestyle habits.
The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids: Did you just have a baby? Getting ready to start solids? Do it the right way, with an eye on food and feeding. This quick read will help you get started on the healthy path.
Given all the publicity around sugar-laden drinks, high fructose corn syrup and unhealthy weight in kids, offering chocolate milk to your child can be a confusing prospect.
As a pediatric dietitian, one of the most FAQ (frequently asked questions) I receive is this: Is chocolate milk good for you?
In this post, I will attempt to look at the facts and weigh the pros and cons of chocolate milk in your child’s diet.
Ultimately, I hope you will have enough information to feel good about your stance, whatever it may be.
Tell Me, Is Chocolate Milk Good or Bad?
Chocolate milk is considered a flavored milk. The addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor.
Many children enjoy it at lunch. School lunch programs across the country have been scrutinized for making flavored milk part of the lunch fare for children. Yet, some children would never drink milk unless it was flavored.
I believe the influence on your child’s diet boils down to how often and how much your child is drinking chocolate milk.
When you combine sucrose from added chocolate and naturally-occuring lactose from milk, it can certainly look like a hefty dose of sugar!
But that number represents both sucrose and lactose.
Bone Nutrients in All Milk
Don’t forget the 9 important nutrients that are present in this healthy drink for kids. There are good nutrients to be had, especially calcium and vitamin D, which are not always easy for kids to get enough of when they skip out on milk.
Calcium and vitamin D are key nutrients to building strong bones, which exclusively happens during childhood.
In fact, calcium and vitamin D are consumed inadequately across all age groups (except children under age 2) and among all demographics.
Is chocolate milk good on the taste buds? Many children think so.
Children like to eat food that tastes good, and that holds true in the case of drinking milk.
Many studies published have shown that milk consumption is higher in schools when flavored milk is offered.
A Recovery Drink after Sports Training
As I mentioned, chocolate milk has been studied as a workout recovery drink, and from all indications, it has a positive impact on muscle recovery and growth, and helps replenish glycogen stores in muscle tissue.
From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that, when consumed after prolonged exercise, the combination of carbohydrate and protein has positive effects on the body’s ability to recover and rebuild muscle.
Parents of athletes take note: 8-10 oz appears to do the trick.
Food allergy may warrant avoidance of milk and all foods made with milk. Consumption of milk and foods made with milk can cause swelling, hives and anaphylaxis.
If your child is allergic to milk, avoid chocolate milk and other flavored milks.
Does dairy cause acne? I’ve heard many people state their skin cleared up after removing dairy from their diet. Scientifically, the research does not show a cause and effect relationship between dairy and acne, however, there are a few studies that suggest consumption of milk and ice cream are associated with acne.
No association was found with cheese and yogurt.
It’s Your Decision!
Flavored Milk in School
Many schools have eliminated chocolate milk. Is this the right thing to do? I’m not sure.
I can see limiting the number of days it is served. I can see assuring that it’s a low fat version.
A complete ban, though?
When it is pulled out of schools, overall milk consumption drops by an average of 35%.
Studies suggest this occurs because fewer students choose milk (clearly their preference was chocolate or flavored milk over white milk), and more milk was wasted.
Unfortunately over time, an improved acceptance of white milk did not occur, making overall consumption of milk decrease.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that calcium and vitamin D continue to be shortfall nutrients (nutrients with inadequate intake) for children.
A review of calcium intake and status in children indicate that up to 50% of children as young as 2 years are not getting enough calcium.
While the optimist (and dietitian) in me knows that children can get calcium from other sources, the realist in me thinks differently.
Chocolate milk may help close that gap and helps kids build strong bones.
What I Do with My Kids
When I plan food and meals, I lead with nutrients in mind. I look for the foods that will fulfill the nutritional requirements of my kids.
I know that without milk and dairy products, my kiddos are unlikely to get what they need, especially for calcium and vitamin D.
I aim for 3 servings of milk or dairy per day. I used to not purchase it for my home when my children were younger.
Then, if they chose to have it at school, that was fine with me, as that was the only place they were getting it.
Now I buy it for my young athletes.
I am careful not to vilify or eliminate flavored milk. I find ways we can work it in reasonably. I treat it just as I would the birthday cakes, the Thanksgiving pie, and the “fun food” (high fat, high sugar treats and junky food) my children eat.
As I see it, making flavored milk the bad guy gets us stuck in the muck, and it becomes difficult to classify and navigate the other foods in our less than perfect diets.
But of course, I like nearly all foods, and want my kids to be open-minded and like them also.
To me, it’s less about chocolate milk, and more about the balance, variety, and amounts of all the foods we serve our children.
Let us be better at teaching our children about choice, variety, balance, and amounts, rather than spending time and energy instilling fear and confusion about food.
Time well spent, in my humble, dietitian’s opinion.
When kids get the nutrients they need, they grow well and are able to maintain their health. This can translate to fewer illnesses.
When we pair balanced meals with an eating schedule, the magic starts to happen.
Meals and snacks that are nutritious, filling, and spaced out in a way that makes sense for your child allows appetite regulation to be much easier, and more natural.
The truth? An eating schedule may help your child recognize and maintain normal appetite cues and reduce ‘head hunger.’
Translated: Your child will be hungry at meals and less likely to complain of hunger between them.
Meal Schedules Change as Kids Grow
The timing of meals and snacks change as kids grow. This is something that seems obvious but parents aren’t always changing the schedule when they need to.
For example, I meet many kids who are eating three and four snacks each day. This is too many!
Only very young children need frequent meals and snacks.
As kids grow and their tummies get bigger, they can eat more. Their stomachs can hold more food. Naturally, this will extend the timeframe between meals and snacks.
Let’s look at a recommended eating schedule based on a child’s age:
Little ones (toddlers and young preschoolers) require three meals and up to three snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs for growth and development. Tiny tummies make it important to offer frequent meals.
For more on toddlerhood growth and development, read:
Kids in school need about 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day. Younger school-age kids (grade K through 2) may need to gradually transition down to two snacks per day. This will be dependent on where they are in their development and growth stage.
Older school-age kids will do well with one snack per day.
The good news is, many schools allow time for a morning snack. Hopefully, this is a nutritious snack. If you’re packing a school snack from home, I have some guidelines and a handy e-guide on how to do this!
Typically, a child’s second snack will occur after school.
A balanced diet represents most of the USDA MyPlate food groups, including protein foods, dairy foods (or non-dairy substitutes), fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
As mentioned, when planning meals, aim to offer most food groups at a meal and try to incorporate a variety of foods within each food group.
For example, within the fruit group, offer a range of options such as strawberries, apple and peaches. If you’re planning for grains, vary it up with cereal, oats or cream of wheat.
Try to avoid offering the same types of food over and over.
Mix it up so that your child gets exposed to a number of different nutrients throughout the day.
A general rule of thumb is to offer four to five food groups at meals, and at least two to three food groups at snack time.
Offer your child at least 4-5 food groups at meals, and at least 2-3 food groups at snack time. #balancedmeals #childhoodnutrition #thenourishedchild Click To Tweet
What is the Best Schedule for Meals?
It is good for children to have a structure to their day, and with meals and snacks, this certainly holds true.
For toddlers and young preschoolers, an eating schedule that spaces meals and snacks to every two and half to three hours works well for most.
Teens do well with an eating schedule that spaces meals and snacks at every four to five hours.
What doesn’t work well for any child is a sense of unpredictability around when they will eat.
Try to set a daily eating schedule that stays consistent for meals and snacks in your home.
What doesn't work well for any child is a sense of unpredictability around when they will eat. #healthyeating #fearlessfeeding #childhoodnutrition Click To Tweet
A Sample Meal Plan for Kids
Based on the intervals I outlined above, let’s look at a sample meal plan for a school-age child.
Start with breakfast in the morning, and proceed from there. Lunch at mid-day, an after-school snack, and dinner at a predictable time. Here’s what it looks like “on paper:”
7 am breakfast
10 am snack
1 pm lunch
4 pm snack
7 pm dinner
Predictability is a Good Thing
Ideally, you want to keep your meals and snacks flowing during the day, especially during the younger years. This routine and rhythm will build predictability and security around food and eating, and help keep undesirable behaviors, such as overeating, at bay.
The emotional response from a child who is unsure about when meals or snacks will be happening can build insecurity around food and eating.
Insecurity can be seen in the following ways: rapid eating, preoccupation with food, frequent questioning about when and what is being served for meals, and “sneak eating”.
Promote rhythm in your child’s eating experiences by staying on time, balanced, and being predictable. And, of course, make sure you’re using a feeding style that promotes structure, boundaries and autonomy.
With feeding, this takes a little bit of planning and practice.
The results? A child who learns to regulate his appetite and eating, lives in a healthy body, and who is less fixated on food.
Want to see if you’re on track with raising a nourished, healthy child? Snag my checklist below!
Children who eat a balanced diet tend to eat a healthy diet. But food alone does not a healthy diet make. Your feeding style also plays an important role.
As a childhood nutrition expert, this is where I see many parents getting tripped up. You focus on one or two healthy foods instead of an overall balanced diet.
Or, you worry more about what to take away from your child’s diet, rather than what to include in it. Is this you?
If so, this article will help you take a more effective approach in planning balanced meals and feeding your child. In this article, I’ll cover what a balanced meal is, why it matters, specific food groups to include as part of a balanced diet, as well as portion sizes for kids and timing of meals and snacks.
What is a Balanced Meal Plan?
You may be striving for a balanced, healthy meal plan, but if you don’t have the basics in mind, you may question yourself. Let’s get the concept of healthy meal plans straight.
A healthy meal plan for a child includes:
nutritious, wholesome food
a balance of all food groups
strategic timing of meals and snacks
helpful ways to incorporate sweets and treats
Together, a balanced diet and optimal meal timing will create a healthy meal plan for your child.
As a result, she will be better able to grow and regulate her eating.
Why Does a Balanced Diet Matter?
There are several reasons why a healthy eating plan is important for growing children.
First, offering a balanced diet of different foods ensures your child will receive the vast majority of his nutritional requirements for growth.
In this article, I will outline the four common parental feeding styles and highlight how they show up in the day-to-day feeding of your child.
The Hardest Job of Parenthood
Feeding your child is arguably one of the most time-consuming and grueling jobs of parenthood. It’s often thankless, and sometimes plagued with parental insecurity and low confidence. Many parents struggle and muddle through the process of feeding their children.
Not to mention the daily effort of feeding a child can be overwhelming. Think about all the planning, procuring, preparing, serving, and cleaning up that goes along with feeding a family.
It’s a lot!
Here is a sobering statistic: throughout an 18 year childhood, you will probably feed your child over 28,000 times (assuming you provide the recommended age-appropriate meals and snacks).
What’s a Parental Feeding Style?
Researchers in the area of feeding kids suggest that feeding styles, or the attitude you use in the process of feeding your child, will closely mirror your parenting style.
When you see other parents parenting, you probably recognize that everyone has their own style. You may also be attracted to those parents who parent like you.
Did you know that each parent has a style of their own when it comes to feeding their kid?
While one style is generally used most of the time, your parental feeding style can overlap and mingle with a different feeding style.
Childhood Informs Our Feeding Strategies
Our parental feeding style also tends to mimic our own experiences as a child. For example, if you had to finish your meal before you were allowed to leave the table, then you may require your own child to do the same.
Often, your feeding style will reflect your own childhood experiences with food and eating. They are deeply ingrained, and may become our “go to” method for feeding your children.
Discover Your Parental Feeding Style
Your feeding style warrants attention. Not only are food and nutrition important considerations in the health of your child, the magnitude of daily feeding interactions is equally, if not more, important.
Additionally, you likely have one feeding style that is prevalent in your day to day feeding interactions with your child. However, you can dip into each and every one of these styles from time to time.
For example, when you’re stressed and busy, you might be uninvolved in feeding your child. When you’re in party mode, you may be indulgent. When your child is picky and underweight, you might find yourself becoming more controlling with feeding.
Let’s take a look at the four different parental feeding styles and see where you end up!
The Four Parental Feeding Styles
The scientific literature recognizes four different feeding styles. Over time, some of these descriptive names have changed, and more recently they are being redefined under the term “food parenting.”
Keep reading to the bottom, as I’ve saved the most desirable feeding style for last. It’s the one that you’ll want to start working toward.
The Controlling Feeding Style
This parental feeding style is also known as a “parent-centered” feeding approach. In the realm of feeding, this style is associated with “The Clean Your Plate Club,” where rules about eating reign, from trying new foods to completing a meal.
Here are some of the common “rules” a controlling feeding style might show:
Eating is directed by the parent, such as “take another bite” or “finish your food,” rather than self-directed by the child and his natural appetite.
The child may not have much say in food choice, and his food preferences and appetite may be ignored by the parent’s wishes about diet quality and eating.
As a result of this feeding style, children may lose a sense of their appetite and an ability to regulate it well. They may overeat to comply with parental requests to eat more or finish the plate of food. Or, they may eat less than they need because they are pushed or pressured too much.
Weight problems, both underweight and overweight, are associated with this feeding style.
The Indulgent Feeding Style
Being indulgent in your feeding style is also known as the lax or loose style of parenting around food. I often refer to the permissive parent as “The ‘Yes’ Parent.”
A parent with this style shows the following characteristics:
Even though “no” or limitations may be the first response to extra food requests or treats, “yes” ultimately reigns.
The classic example of this is the mother who is attempting to manage the vocal child in the grocery store who wants candy at the checkout stand. He begs and begs, hearing, “no, no, no…well….okay, I guess so.”
As a result, children may struggle with their weight, as research shows that there are few limits on high calorie foods.
Feeding Style - We All Have One (or More) - What's Yours? - YouTube
The Uninvolved Feeding Style
An uninvolved feeding style is less studied in the literature, but as a practitioner, I have seen it in action.
A parent who has an uninvolved feeding style is often:
Ill-prepared in the food department, not shopping for food regularly. Cabinets and refrigerators may be empty or lacking in a variety of food.
There may be no plan for meals, or meals may be left to the last minute.
Food and eating may lack importance to the parent, and that may transfer to feeding their child.
Children who experience an uninvolved feeding style may feel insecure or nervous about food, being unsure about when they will have their next meal, if they will like it, or whether it will be enough.
These children may become overly focused on food and frequently question the timing and details around mealtime.
The DiplomaticFeeding Style
I call this the “Love with Limits” feeding style, because it promotes independent thinking and eating regulation within your child, but it also sets boundaries your child is expected to operate in.
The diplomatic feeding style focuses on the details around the meal (what will be served, when it will happen, and where it will be served), but allows the child to decide if they will eat what is prepared, and how much they will eat.
In other words, I used pre-plated meals as a way to feel in control of my children’s eating.
As such, I wasn’t helping my kids become independent, intuitive or confident with eating using this approach.
Now, I’m a reformed pre-plater of food.
What are Family-Style Meals?
Family-style meals are simply mealtimes where all the food items in the meal are placed in the center of the table. Family members pass items around the table from one to another, selecting food items and serving themselves.
How Family-Style Meals Helped Us
When my four children were 4, 6, 7, and 9 years, I made the switch to family-style meals, and I’ve never looked back.
I’ll never forget my middle daughter’s statement after a week of serving meals our new way,
“Mom, are we going to have a smorgasbord every night?!”
My kids loved it. And despite my later start, they’ve all turned out to be “normal” eaters, from my standpoint.
Of course, they each have their food preferences and their dislikes. Sometimes they love dinner and eat a lot, and sometimes they don’t.
Best of all, they tolerate the company of a variety of foods on the table, whether they choose to eat them or not.
5 Things I Know About Pre-Plating Food
1. Plated meals are based in habits, fear, or a desire to control
Sure, it’s easy and efficient to pre-plate food, get it on the table and cleaned up. If you had your food plated as a child, this may be the only way you know how to do it.
But, there are other ways.
Family-style meals puts your child in charge of selecting which foods he will eat, and how much. In contrast, pre-plating does little to teach your child how to make good food choices or how much to eat based on appetite.
2. Pre-plated food puts the food decisions in your hands, not your kids’
When you make these food decisions for your child, you rob them the experience of learning to listen to their appetite, navigating what makes up a healthy meal, and practicing balance in eating.
Family-style meals, on the other hand, allow kids to see the variety of meal components (a representation of all food groups, preferably) and gives them autonomy with food selection.
3. Parents often over-estimate portion sizes
It’s true. Because portions are so distorted nowadays, you may over-serve your child, offering adult-size portions without even knowing it. Your child may get accustomed to eating larger amounts of food.
For me, muffins speak “winter.” I rarely fire up the oven to bake muffins in the spring or summer.
So, with winter on its way out (hopefully!), one last batch of muffins for the winter seems like the right thing to do. Whether you’re hankering for blueberry muffins or banana muffins or another type of muffin, I’ve got an extensive list of healthy muffin recipes from my fellow dietitians to share with you.
Dietitians do a great job of working in flavor, nutrition, and kid-appeal all at once!
Are Muffins Healthy?
Most kids I know love muffins. They like to eat them for breakfast, snack time, or even part of their lunchtime fare.
Muffins are a versatile way to pack in nutrition, especially with helping kids get more fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes I even use muffins as a vehicle to introduce fruits and vegetables to kids who might otherwise be resistant to trying new foods. You’d be surprised to hear that kids who won’t touch a veggie may be open to a zucchini chocolate chip muffin. A step in the right direction!
Got a picky eater in the house, an athlete, or simply want to build more variety into your meal and snack offerings?
Give these healthy muffin recipes a try!
Better yet, make these and stock them in the freezer. You’ll have muffins all spring and summer long.
23 Healthy Muffin Recipes for Your Kids
In this list of muffin recipes, you’ll find all kinds of flavor combinations. I encourage you to branch out and try a new flavor combination!