Contact Form

    News Details

    4 tips to help parents avoid obstacles to good family nutrition
    • May 2, 2024

    Feeding young children can be challenging for a host of reasons. While parents and caregivers strive to encourage healthy eating, common strategies may backfire. Families’ eating habits have a huge impact on children’s daily nutrition and relationship with food and potentially even their longer-term health.

    How can busy parents tackle the obstacles to good family nutrition?

    Making dinner every day can be a significant source of stress. This is particularly true for parents and caregivers with kids who have picky or selective food preferences. Just as there are different parenting styles, there are different approaches to promoting healthy eating at home. However, it’s possible that common strategies can actually make mealtime harder.

    Here are some important considerations to promote both optimal nutrition and a healthy mealtime attitude for families:

    Rethink the Clean Plate Club

    Requiring children to eat everything on their plates doesn’t usually get the intended results. Ideally, children should learn to eat based on their internal cues of hunger and fullness. An expectation to finish everything that is served to them teaches kids to override their own cues, using external cues instead. Learning to ignore their bodies’ signals can lead to overeating and other concerns. Instead, encourage kids to check in with their bodies to decide the right portions at meals. Children can learn to describe their level of hunger to help adults serve them a portion that best matches their appetite.

    Offer Balance and Variety Instead of Alternate Meals

    Making one meal for the entire family is the most economical and time-efficient approach to meal time. However, 60 percent of parents report making separate meals for children who don’t like what’s served for dinner. These backup meals are often less nutritious “kid foods” like pizza or frozen nuggets. Plus, acting as a short-order cook can become a bad habit that’s hard to break even as children get older and more familiar with different foods. Instead, offer a balanced meal containing a variety of foods including at least one food the child typically eats. Healthy children who eat little at one meal will often catch up at the next meal.

    Include the Whole Family in Meal Planning

    Parents are dealing with not only the challenge of selective eaters, but also the rising cost of food. A real concern of family meal planning is reducing food waste. Including children in meal planning empowers children and encourages accountability that can help improve food acceptance at meal time. Discuss recipes and ingredients together and, when possible, include everyone in the cooking process. While it’s still the caregiver’s role to decide what’s for dinner, knowing that your child will eat carrots if they are raw and broccoli if it’s cooked with garlic, for example, can help make dinner more successful and less wasteful.

    Choose Healthy Snacks

    Well-timed nutrient-dense snacks can help young children meet their nutrition needs. Snacks, or mini meals, are especially important for active kids and those who get full quickly, needing to eat more frequently. However, excess unplanned random snacking can lead to poor intake at meals or skipping meals altogether. Many packaged snacks marketed to children are high in sugar, fat and calories and can disrupt the natural instinct to feel hungry leading up to a meal. Snacks that contain fiber and protein like fruit, veggies, yogurt, hummus, seeds, homemade bran mini muffins and air-popped popcorn can help stave off hunger between meals without throwing the next meal off course.

    LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

    Related Articles

    Things To Do |

    Why taking steps to combat loneliness can be good for your overall health

    Things To Do |

    What recent findings suggest about the safety of intermittent fasting

    Things To Do |

    7 food misconceptions debunked to help you make better nutritional choices

    Things To Do |

    5 balanced breakfast ideas to help maximize health benefits

    Things To Do |

    5 strategies to make imaginative, delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals

    ​ Orange County Register