HOW do you feed your kids?

What kind of parent are you? . . . think about this while you read.

What kind of parent am I?

This has been on mind today since I participated in an education session by Jill Castle, MS, RD discussing her approach to childhood nutrition focusing on Fearless Feeding. I am definitely looking forward to her book on this topic coming out in 2013. I won’t dive too much into it because I think her book will best summarize the evidence and will help everyone (including myself) put her concepts into practice. This session was a good reminder as to the concepts of how we (parents) feed children, and why we feed children. Ever heard that you are a product of your environment and upbringing? Well it is true for feeding as well. And if you know where you came from and where you want to go (or how you want to raise your children), then you can figure out the “how” to get there and be the parent you want to be. Inspiring stuff I must say.

There are 4 feeding styles that Jill Castle, MS RD identified in her presentation: Authoritarian, Permissive, Neglectful, and Authoritative. These words have also been used to describe parenting styles. Pretty self explanatory, but identifying which style you practice can make the world of difference in how you approach your child’s nutrition. I grew up with more of an authoritarian approach to eating. I was supposed to clean my plate. I felt lots of  pressure to eat my veggies – I even went to such lengths as to flush them down the toilet – let’s just say that back fired until we got a dog! Let’s just say I still dislike brussel sprouts to this day and gag even upon seeing them on my plate.  “Sweets” were often over-regulated in my home. We had sweets when we were given money for “a treat”, cookies were homemade and available (doesn’t sound too bad right?), but as soon as “weight” was brought up in my home by my mom or my dad, I felt the need to hide in the pantry to have a piece of chocolate. Weight comments were never directed at me, but negative connotations about weight definitely left an impression on me when I was a teenager. And I was by no means overweight, a healthy BMI, no concerns or woes about my appearance. But somehow over the course of my adolescence I developed some disordered eating habits: hiding “treats” in the pantry, binging on them at 2am when I was “hungry”, sneaking an extra serving of dessert, and some others… I still have at times found myself hiding chocolate deep in the pantry so my husband won’t find it. Really, this is SOOOO ridiculous! My husband can’t even eat chocolate as it gives him migraines, so who am I hiding it from? Myself? Or my parents? And really, this is only my perception of what my parent’s approach to eating was. They probably think they were very authoritative, which is what I aim to be. How would your kids describe your feeding approach?

So how can we feed our children? I think Jill’s book will help guide you and your approach to your kids. For now here are some concepts that I teach to families and (try to) practice in my own home:

  1. Provide structure by setting meal times and snack times. Kids rely on routine to trust that their parent will provide for them.
  2. Serve family meals. I have encouraged this before!
  3. Be a role model to your children. Try news foods TOGETHER.
  4. Kids love to have a voice. Provide choice within the same food group. i.e. offer 2 difference vegetables at a meal and let your child choose one (or both!).
  5. Avoid food rewards.
  6. Division of Responsibility. Ellyn Satter is the guru of this concept. The parent decides what and when to offer food (i.e. the structured meal and snack times I mentioned). The child decides what to eat and how much to eat. Easier said than done, right?
  7. Avoid controlling the division of responsibility. No “two bite” rules, no pressure to eat, no restricting foods.

    Blueberries: a laundry detergent’s worst nightmare!
  8. Trust your kids. Trusting children to self regulate their food intake teaches them to listen to their hunger cues.
  9. Allow kids to explore food. Sometimes this means letting them make a mess!
  10. Promote a happy, relaxing mealtime environment. Nurture = nourish. They tend to go hand in hand.

I hope this has given you some practical food for thought that can help guide your feeding practices and help you to nourish your children. Happy eating!

Melissa Lachapelle, RD

Just the Right ByteFearless Feeding