Nutrition education for parents can be a game changer, not only for building confidence, but for potentially changing the health trajectory of our nation’s kids.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why nutrition education for parents is needed, now more than ever
- The connection between lack of education and child health problems
- Whether educating parents even works
The Power of Education
Education is a powerful thing. Collectively, we value it. We invest in it. And we prioritize it.
We know education changes us, our loved ones, and makes us more aware and, well, better.
Here are some examples of how we use education to benefit ourselves:
- We put teens through driver’s education to make sure they know how to drive a car safely. They learn to keep themselves safe, and others.
- When parents take a birthing class, they learn about how to deliver a baby. This keeps the baby safe, the mother safe, and everyone aware of how things will progress.
- We read children’s books about nutrition, educating them about food and healthy eating.
Parents Don’t Get Enough Nutrition Information
Yet, when it comes to educating and preparing parents for the job of nourishing and feeding their child, there’s a big gap.
Sure, parents get a little hand-holding early in their child’s life. They make routine trips to the pediatrician for check-ups. A lot during the first year, and annually for the years afterward.
But, this hand-holding doesn’t focus on nutrition or feeding. It might come up in conversation, but it isn’t the main topic.
Feeding and nourishing kids is something parents do daily.
Every. Single. Day.
In fact, several times a day. And when you tally that up through childhood, we’re looking at thousands of meals and snacks.
Yet, parents receive next to no formal education in nutrition and feeding kids.
And that’s a real shame.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”Maya Angelou
Parents Need More Education in Nutrition
Let’s face the facts. Children’s health isn’t getting any better. If you read the headlines or the research, you know it’s getting worse.
Childhood obesity rates are up. Despite ongoing measures to turn the tide, we haven’t cracked the code, or moved the needle.
Eating disorders are on the rise in kids under age 12 and in boys. This is due, in part, to a disruption in the relationship with food.
Children with food allergies, ADHD, and picky eating are also more prevalent now than ever before.
While you could argue these conditions stem from genetics, environment, or some other factor, you can’t deny that food, eating and parenting play a role.
Does Nutrition Education Help?
I think we all like to believe that if we know more, we will do better. But, we are human, and it doesn’t always work out that way. Motivation plays a big role, and so do circumstances.
But there is some evidence supporting nutrition education as an effective tool for improving eating and health.
Take the NOURISH studies. These researchers educated parents on responsive feeding and found that afterward, parents were more sensitive to infant signs of fullness and avoided overfeeding their babies.
The BLISS studies looked at baby-led weaning. Researchers found that when they educated parents about calorie-dense, nutrient-rich foods and choking, their babies did better and were less likely to choke, experience nutrient deficiencies, or be underweight.
You’ll find even more studies touting the benefits of educating children about nutrition.
But, kids aren’t purchasing food at the grocery store. They aren’t making dinner. They’re simply participants at mealtime, and more often than not, they aren’t responsible for food and the environment around eating.
Most parents want to raise a good eater.
We have no system of nutrition education for parents, and we sorely need it.
We’ve Forgotten Nutrition Education as a Powerful Change Agent
Without a systematic approach to nutrition education, parents with children are left to figure out food, feeding and all the challenges around eating on their own.
In the process, they may make mistakes. Little mistakes, and big mistakes. None of these are intentional, but nevertheless, they can be harmful.
This lack of nutrition education for parents, I believe, is catching up to our kids.
When parents aren’t sure about how to feed their kids, what to offer, how to cook, or why and how to set limits while feeding positively, it makes raising healthy kids harder.
And making mistakes easier.
Many Parents Can Do Better with Feeding Kids
When I was a new mother, I thought I knew what I was doing. In fact, I told myself it would be easy to feed my baby. After all, I had been a pediatric dietitian for seven years.
Yes. A child nutritionist working in two of the most highly regarded hospitals, taking care of our nation’s sickest kids.
At work, I was an expert. At home, however, I was like many mothers: stressed out and struggling to feed my little human.
I learned some important lessons from that experience.
One: To successfully nourish a child means you need nutrition knowledge, especially in these three areas: food and nutrition, feeding, and child development.
Two: Kids are changing humans. They’re almost never stagnant. So you need to be flexible and stay ahead of the changes. Or at least move with them.
Three: My nutrition education saved me. Kept me on track. Even when I was most scared and lost. I had something to fall back on.
Nutrition education is all that for parents. The knowledge they need. The anticipatory guidance, or, “what to expect” know-how. And the thing to fall back on when they’re stuck.
Not only will nutrition knowledge help you be a better parent, it will help you raise a good eater and a healthy child. But more importantly, it will help you set your child up for a future of health.