“You know, all those kids whose parents were sending them to school with carrot sticks and avocados and 3 oz of lean turkey 5 years ago are now showing up in my office as pre-teens with serious eating issues. They are starving and now they have this wonky idea about the role food plays in their lives. I wish I could record some of the conversations I have with these kids, so their parents could hear how messed up their views on food and nutrition are. I spend half my time trying to re-educate them, but many of the kids say they have to sneak to eat anything that isn’t sanctioned by mom or dad.”
I almost fell out of my chair when my friend who is a nutritionist and pediatrician shared this with me. I asked her to share three tips she would give parents that would help correct this dangerous trend.
I have listed her suggestions for creating a more balanced approach to nutrition.
1. Keep your own eating issues out of the equation. When talking to the parents whose kids communicate unhealthy ideas around food, eating and nutrition, it is immediately understood that it is the parents’ issue that is driving the decisions around their child’s nutrition. Either parents are afraid kids will struggle with weight issues and start focusing too heavily on calorie counting at a very young age or they are hyper vigilant about disease and limit any and all processed food. Parents must first examine their own relationship with food, health, nutrition, and disease and deal with those issues personally. Then, seek out a nutritionist who can help address concerns and assist in helping the parents create a more balanced approach to nutrition. With all this focus on obesity, it’s easy to understand how we can let fear drive our decision making process around nutrition, but it’s important that we recognize that swinging the pendulum too far the other way is just as dangerous.
2. It’s tempting to connect nutrition, food, and fuel for the body, to body size, body type or body weight in order to “motivate” kids to eat in healthier ways. Unfortunately, the minute parents begin making those connections is the minute many kids start thinking there is something wrong with their bodies. Teaching kids about healthy nutrition starts by inviting them to look at cookbooks to find tasty meals, weighing fruit and veggies at the grocery store, selecting healthy snacks and sometimes, not so healthy snacks, and then being invited into the kitchen where they have the opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with food.
3. Everything in Moderation. Whether you are Vegan, Paleo, or somewhere in between, your kids need a variety of food to not only stay healthy, but to develop that healthy relationship with food. Limiting certain foods or denying them all together will only create power struggles and eating problems. When kids see their friends eating those tasty treats and they know what the “food policy” is in their homes, the more tempted they are to sneak which leaves them feeling badly about who they are and nervous about talking to their folks.