I think it’s safe to say most of us struggle with nutrition.
Between fad and yo-yo diets and shifting information regarding health and weight loss, women are in a world that is constantly telling us how to look, what to eat, and when to do it! It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we, as mothers, don’t always have the most up-to-date information on providing the best nutrition for our kids. Some days, I’m feeding them cauliflower rice and grilled chicken and other days, they get by on frozen corndogs (sometimes still cold because they were impatient in the microwave. I’m doing my best!) Eager to up my motherhood game, though, I was excited to talk to Michelle Miller, the Clinical Dietitian Coordinator at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) about child nutrition and how to encourage healthy eating habits at home!
While the focus here is on nutrition for the kids, it’s important to note that kids often get their cues from caregivers.
“So if you eat good things (like salad) and follow up by saying ‘salads are just rabbit food’ kids will be less likely to choose to eat salads. It’s important for us to have the same foods on our plate and show positive interest in those healthier foods,” says Michelle. Remember that your little ones are watching you and are learning about their own relationship with food through observing yours. If that feels like a ton of pressure, I hope you know you aren’t alone and also hope you’ll learn a few tips to help your entire family have a healthier relationship with food in the future. Remember to give yourself grace and understanding when it comes to food. Balance is key and there is absolutely a place for junk and sweets in a balanced diet! Also, remind yourself that YOU get to choose how you shape your family’s nutrition and future relationships with food regardless of how you were raised or your own food relationship.
So now that we’ve set the scene for what can be a sensitive conversation (I’m projecting my own food insecurities, I know), we’re ready to dive into some tips from EIRMC to set the tone for healthy nutrition! The first and easiest way to incorporate healthy foods into your family’s diet is to make sure you have access to healthy foods at home. Michelle reminds us that we are responsible for what our children have access to and when they can access it. Ensuring there is a variety of healthy options increases the odds that a child will grab a mandarin instead of a twinkie. Another way to make the healthier snacks more appealing to little eyes and tummies is to place them at eye-level and within reach! You can also take a couple of extra steps to prepare the food by washing and cutting fruits and veggies and maybe even adding some fun dip options like hummus or dressing to make them feel like a more complete snack!
Here are some other simple budget friendly snack/meal ideas:
• Peanut butter and celery with raisins to make a fun ‘Ants on a Log’ snack
• Ham and cheese roll-ups with a serving of fruit
• Tortilla, peanut butter, and banana roll-up (add local honey for a yummy
• Yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola
Another great tip is to build a reliable structure and routine regarding food. A great option is to have 3 regular meal-times and 2-3 snack times throughout the day. Not only will this help alleviate the daily stress of preparing meals, but it also sets clear expectations for school when the kids are only allowed to eat during set times. While these times may look different for each family during different seasons of life, routine is helpful in most cases. Each family will also develop different rules regarding snacks between meals or treats if regular meals aren’t eaten as expected, but it’s important to remember to honor your child’s food relationship by allowing them to communicate when they’re full or when they don’t like a particular food. Encourage your kids to recognize signs of fullness by discouraging the outdated ideology that you must clear your plate at every meal. Eventually, your child will hopefully acknowledge what their ideal serving size is!
While I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, I do have a son who does! Even simple meals can carry a positive nutritional load, though, and including him in decisions regarding meal planning and cooking has helped him develop a better understanding of balance and nutrition. We definitely still have junk food in the house, but by making it a regular part of their food offerings (they get to pack 1 “junky” item in their lunches) it has removed the magic appeal of junk preventing them from sneaking the snacks to eat in a closet like mom does after bedtime. By using these sweets and treats as rewards, we often place them on a pedestal making them more attractive to our kids. It’s important to provide options, but also to educate them on healthy choices from a young age as appropriate. Once your kids are old enough, you can discuss the MyPlate diagram to teach the importance of balance and incorporate the information into planning and dishing up your meals!
I know some of you may be reading this in hopes of gleaning a bit of information for picky eaters. We have some great information for that here and here, but you could also try making mealtimes and eating a more fun experience by asking your child questions about the color, size, or texture of the food to encourage them to explore the food rather than immediately reject it. Maybe try many different foods that are the same color or size and take time to lick, smell, and even squish the foods!