Learn how to raise a good eater using a modernized approach to childhood nutrition. One that includes good nutrition, positive feeding techniques and an eye on your child’s personality and developmental stage.
In this article, you’ll understand:
- The big picture of childhood nutrition
- Three main components that need attention if you’re going to raise a good eater
- Why you need an overall strategy, not just a handful of tactics
Read on and learn what it takes to raise a good eater and set your child up for an adulthood of health and wellness!
All Parents Want to Raise Good Eaters
Raising healthy eaters is not easy in today’s world of fast food, quick packaged snacks, and dash dining.
Yet, nearly all parents strive to achieve this goal.
It’s understandable to want a healthy eater. After all, what kids eat growing up is linked to their health as an adult. For instance, we know the seeds of cardiovascular disease are planted in childhood.
Also, we also know that carrying extra weight in childhood increases the risk of adult health problems, like Type 2 Diabetes. Yet, according to the CDC, 18.5% of children and teens are carrying unhealthy, extra weight, and this statistic is increasing.
It’s becoming more and more important to get a handle on how to raise a good eater because there’s a lot at stake.
Health is Wealth
The “your health is your wealth” statement gets tossed around quite a bit in the wellness industry.
But it’s true.
If you’re sick, you can’t go to school, you can’t work, and you can’t participate in your life at full capacity.
This is true for adults and children.
Which is why it’s important to actively cultivate health in kids. As a parent, you’re actively promoting health through the foods you offer, the eating habits you cultivate, and the lifestyle you emulate.
Helping your child develop healthy eating habits is a shield against adult illness. It’s a protective mechanism – a proactive step — to ensuring your child has a healthy future.
So, let’s get down to the nutrition and feeding part of raising good eaters.
How to Raise a Good Eater
Most experts will direct you to food alterations when it comes to answering the question, “How do I raise a good eater?”
They’ll tell you to serve vegetables with every meal. Sneak in veggies somehow. Or, sit down for family meals a certain number of times per week.
This advice isn’t wrong. But, it’s focused on tactics.
Sometimes tactics work, and sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t, it’s easy to give up.
In my almost three decades of being a pediatric dietitian, I’ve come to recognize that parents need a holistic approach to feeding and nourishing healthy kids.
They need a mindset shift and the background knowledge to help them effectively implement an overall strategy that works.
And they need a variety of tactics. Because when tactic #1 doesn’t work, they need a backup.
Let’s tackle the main components of nourishing healthy kids, something I call the “trifecta of child nutrition.”
Establish A Flexible Food System
You probably already know that kids need a nutritious, balanced diet to grow well. They need about 40 different nutrients each day to meet the nutritional demands of their growth and development.
While that sounds like a lot of nutrients to keep track of, there's some flexibility day-to-day, allowing you to look at the overall weekly trend of food intake.
Your kid doesn’t drink any milk one day? Don’t worry, he’ll likely make it up over the course of the week.
That’s the kind of flexibility I’m talking about.
Not only does your child need to eat a variety of nutritious foods, he also needs to learn to navigate the unhealthy options out there.
Essentially, learn how and where they can co-exist with healthier fare.
So, no need to be super-strict on only healthy food in the house. No need to police sweets. I believe all parents need to find that “happy place” with the balance of all foods, both nutritious and not-so-nutritious.
It’s all out there. And not knowing how to navigate all foods and balance them may mean your child will struggle with cravings, obsessions, restrictive diets and other undesirable eating habits.
Teaching and role-modeling flexibility with food is the name of the game. Of course, you need to understand food and nutrients to a certain degree so you can do all of the above.
Use Positive Feeding Principles
Once you’ve got your flexible food system in place, you’ll want to dive into the interactions that happen when feeding your child.
I’m talking about the push-pull of getting your kid to eat. The things like bribing with dessert or pressuring your child to take another bite and taste something new.
These interactions are feeding strategies and they can be positive or negative. Often, feeding has shades of both involved.
Positive feeding strategies nudge your child into becoming self-regulated with eating. In other words, knowing how much to eat and when to stop eating.
Negative feeding strategies teach kids to listen to external cues for eating rather than internal ones like hunger or fullness cues. And they may play a role in overeating and under-eating, and as such, a child's weight status and growth.
Most parents use a feeding approach that stems from their own childhood. If you’ve got positive memories of eating as a child and feel your interactions with your child around food and her eating are in a good place, you’ve probably got a good set of feeding skills.
However, if the dynamic between you and your child is difficult, strained, or combative and your child’s eating is not in a good place, then you’ve probably got some work to do on your feeding interactions.
One thing’s for sure. If you want to raise a good eater, your child needs to feel good about food and eating it. In other words, he needs to have a positive relationship with food.
That comes from his day-to-day interactions with you and food.
Build Autonomy (& Understand How)
The third area of raising good eaters is focused on building your child’s autonomy with food choices and eating behaviors.
Autonomy means your child is independent and self-assured with making food choices. Over time, he learns and understands the role of nutrition to his health and wellness. And, he's motivated to make choices that help his health, not hurt it.
Of course, building autonomy with eating doesn’t happen overnight.
It happens over a childhood.
That’s why it’s important to understand your child’s developmental stages, including his physical, cognitive, emotional and social changes over time.
Developmental changes are predictable and sequential. Every kid goes through the stages, in pretty much the same order. But because every child has a different personality and temperament, the experience of each stage may look different.
Why is it important to get a handle on development?
Because each stages informs you where your child is at, what motivates his decisions, and how you can stay on track (even ahead!) with supporting his autonomy and developmental progress.
Building your child’s autonomy with eating over time means that she will be capable of taking care of herself and her health.
Isn’t that the end game?
Raise Good Eaters by Integrating the Trifecta of Childhood Nutrition
While I haven’t given you 10 tips to raising a good eater, I hope I’ve given you the big picture behind this important task.
When you put these three areas together, you get an effective overall strategy for raising a good eater. One that not only nudges your child along the path to health, but also empowers you to feel good about how you’re handling the task at hand.
Of course, embedded within each main component I've reviewed above, there are tips and tactics. Yes, there's a lot to learn and know! This is why nutrition education for parents is something about which I'm passionate.
I hope you can see how essential your knowledge of nutrition, feeding and development is to raising a child who is healthy, has a good relationship with food, and is on the path to becoming autonomous with eating and self-care.
As I like to say, good eaters aren’t born, they’re made!
Want More Nutrition Help?
Check out The Nourished Child Blueprint, our flagship course outlining the overarching strategies and day-to-day tactics for raising good eaters in today’s complicated food world.