“Thank you, Sam-I-Am!”
Date posted: January 23, 2018
Today Joel Barohn, a registered dietitian and chef, is sharing tips for helping children become healthy eaters.
Do you remember discovering Sam-I-am and his Green Eggs and Ham? Reading Dr. Seuss with my parents at bedtime, as I am sure many of you experienced, occurred not once, not twice, but quite often thrice. Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of overcoming picky eating is in good company with other books that teach children how to eat well through food and loveable characters.
Exploring the foods families enjoy alongside books, poems, and songs is a wonderful way to help children develop a connection to their food preferences and ultimately lead to better health. (For more book ideas to inspire your next meal, check out these 8 great after dinner reads.)
Raising healthy children means teaching them how to have a healthy relationship with their food. Young children are still learning how to eat and what they like. But, they need help from adults. It takes time for a good story to evolve, as does learning how to eat well. As adults, we have to remain flexible in this process.
Here are my top feeding tips for adults to help their children become healthy, competent eaters.
- Provide regular sit-down meals and snacks: Children want routine, and, in fact, thrive with it. An easy routine to follow is 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day, with water served in between. Regular sit-down meals and snacks will help children learn when to expect to eat. They will also learn about their own body’s hunger cues and how to regulate their appetite.
- Serve familiar with unfamiliar foods: Children naturally want to eat well. In time, they will learn to eat a variety of foods, but how much of a food is up to them. Let children eat or not eat what is offered.
- Time for table talk: Children want a pleasant mealtime without pressure focused on what they are eating. Instead of focusing table talk on how much or what type of food a child is or isn’t eating, talk about something else such as an event from your day. If food is discussed, focus on its colour, shape, taste, smell, or texture.
- Model healthy eating behavior: Children want to eat like you do. This means providing a variety of foods for both meals and snacks for you and them. Provide children with the same place setting as the parent’s (child-sized knife, spoon etc. if possible). Children learn how to eat by watching their parents.
- Help children get served or let them serve themselves: Children want to feel independent. After food is served, remain neutral and don’t place pressure on how or what to eat. Avoid reminding, insisting, encouraging, suggesting, or praising children’s food choices.
If you already use these tips, fantastic! If these are new to you, it is understandable you might experience the difficulties with a new habit. Be confident, that with your help children will become more competent eaters, mealtimes will be more peaceful, and your family will have a healthy relationship with their food.
As one of the nutrition educators and registered dietitians at BC Dairy Association, Joel contributes to the mission of promoting health in BC through leadership and innovation in nutrition education. This includes developing resources and programs for teachers, health professionals and the general public throughout BC.