"Did you wipe? Did you wash your hands?" I feel like a broken record repeating the same commands over and over again to train my children to be decent human beings. And they cannot seem to master these two simple steps, yet I am to teach them how to eat?! It is hard enough to get myself to eat what I need. Now I have to train these little humans? As a dietitian, I feel an extra strong burden to train my children well in the area of food. I want them to enjoy food, develop strong healthy habits and have a well developed palate to enjoy foods of all tastes and textures. It is not an easy task, but I love that I get at least 4 chances at working on it a day: breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. Clearly this is not something a person learns in one lesson. I also see my boys repeating our behaviors. For example, my husband and I drink water with dinner, which makes it easy for my boys to know they too drink water with their dinner. It is not even a discussion or negotiation as to what we drink because it is always the same for everyone. When family comes to visit or we go out and they see other people drinking other beverages, you better believe they request/demand something else, but when 99% of their lives they know water is what we drink, it becomes their habit and their behavior. It is learned, and I hope one day, appreciated.
One behavior that I cannot tolerate in my house is demonizing food. All things in moderation, variety is key. Too much of anything is not good. In my house, sugar is a carbohydrate not a four letter word. There is something seductive about things we cannot or should not have just as part of human nature. What I have seen after working with many people to improve their nutrition, is that when food is demonized it develops into starve/binge cycles which have no end and no health benefit. What I want my boys to know is that it doesn't matter what you do for 30 days, it matters what you do day in and day out for the next 80 years.
In the same way, I do not allow them to say they do not like something. We take no thank you bites of all the food on our plate and sometimes "the timing is not right" and they do not want to eat it today, but they will try it again later. This leaves the door open for taste bud development and maturing their palate and also a fantastic life skill to be able to try food that is not familiar and develop relationships across cultures. I love the book by Amy Pleimling called "Don't Yuck My Yum." It starts a great conversation with young children about different foods and developing the social skills to eat with others.
The other day my five year old asked what a calorie was. He has been learning to read and saw a label and the word calorie. I asked him how he knew how to read it and he said Grandma was looking at the calories. In his total innocence, my son has bold letters staring at him on every box or can of food declaring the Calories. I was totally caught off guard by the question and yet completely intrigued by his total naivety to it. I have found in nutrition counseling that highlighting negatives only brings problems into focus, but when I focus on the positives, the negatives become smaller. I wanted to highlight the benefits of calories, why we need those in our bodies and I knew I had approximately 20 seconds of his attention. I explained that calories are a measure of energy and we eat food to get energy. That was enough for his 5 year old self that day, but every day since he is asking about the food labels (because of his interest in reading) and I am finding ways to highlight the benefits of the foods he is eating. I want him to understand that we eat for purpose. We eat to have energy, stay healthy and become strong. Food is our tool which can be used for great things. This week we started discussing protein and we talked about how protein is our building blocks - like legos. We talked about how some proteins (actually amino acids but they are 5 and 3) our body cannot make which is why we must eat them. Then I pointed out how it is such a bummer when they are missing a key lego piece and cannot build what they wanted. If they do not eat they protein, it is like their bodies do not have the lego pieces it needs to get strong and be healthy. These conversations are simple, but I am finding it takes away the need to repeat 5,000 times that no, they cannot have candy as an after school snack and it gives them something positive to focus on and motivate them.
Do we eat perfectly? Absolutely not. Do my children struggle with basic decent human behavior at the dinner table? Of course. I find myself reminding them to sit in their chair and not throw their food more often than I would like, but we do sit at the dinner table as a family every night of the week without any screens or distractions. We try to engage our little guys in conversation and I hope to create a safe, loving place they know they land at every night with our full attention (no phones for distraction), a consistent food pattern on their plate which they can eat or not but will at least try. Ellyn Satter is excellent in her guidance - where the parents decide what, when, and where foods are offered and the child decides whether and how much to eat. I know all families cannot do dinner together. Find a time that you can eat together, maybe you need to do breakfast as a family or weekends are your family meal times, whatever it is, strive for consistency and make it special.
Just like potty training requires the constant broken record reminder, training little ones to eat is a process that takes many many tries and I hope that one day, my sons will enjoy great health, strength and relationships because of the habits we are teaching them. In the mean time, I am having fun trying to reclaim the dinner table and train my children to enjoy food and eat for health.
Tomorrow is Halloween in the United States and just in case you are not familiar, we celebrate with dressing up in costumes and going door to door saying “trick or treat” and neighbors give out candy. To be honest, I am not a huge Halloween fan. I strongly dislike the scary decorations and do not care much about cheap candy. That being said, my children have been dressed up as super heroes for the past 3 days straight and think this holiday may be one of the very best.
Little boys, super heroes and candy - need I say more. It has been fun, I get to see the holiday through a whole new light. Their imaginations are running wild and their costumes are down right adorable! This is really the first year my oldest knows candy is coming and he is absolutely thrilled. How am I going to handle Flash and a bucket full of candy? Maybe even harder, what about Superman and his bucket? My dietitian, mom brain was going through how to best handle this particular new challenge, and I wanted to share my thoughts and glean from you pro-moms out there.
'Yo-Yo' Dieting Does No Favors for Your Heart
Dramatic shifts in weight stress the body and other health problems are often involved, researchers explain
Source: New England Journal of Medicine
What works for weight loss
Cited: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults
Newborn weight gain: What's normal and what's not
Related Resource: New Book from the Academy Helps Parents Make the Best Food and Lifestyle Choices for Their Baby
High-Dose Vitamin D Failed to Curb Heart Disease in Study
Monthly supplementation fell short, but experts aren't ruling out other approaches
Source: JAMA Cardiology
Multivitamins Don't Help the Heart Even in People with Poor Nutrition
Massive RCT flop is still a flop in analysis by baseline nutrition status
Source: JAMA Cardiology
Related Commentary: Inconclusive Supplement Benefit, but Undisputed Advantages of Healthy Foods
Fruit and veg can lower blood pressure according to reviewers
Source: American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism
Fitness, Not Fat, Is Key to Post-Stroke Recovery
People who exercised regularly before their attack had lower odds for disability after, study found
Related Resource: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2016
Nutritional Improvement Correlates with Recovery of Activities of Daily Living among Malnourished Elderly Stroke Patients in the Convalescent Stage: A Cross-Sectional Study
San Francisco makes the healthy choice the easy choice
(In 2015, the university removed all sugar-sweetened beverages from every store, cafeteria, food truck and restaurant on its sprawling campuses.)
Source: Preventing Chronic Disease
82% of U.S. households have organic food in their kitchens
Source: Nielsen findings released by the Organic Trade Association
Small Dietary Changes Cut Water Use, Can Improve Health
Adoption of optimized diets also accompanied by reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
Source: Lancet Planetary Health
Breast-Feeding May Not Lead to Smarter Preschoolers
Related Resource: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding
Want Cheap and Healthy Meals? Cook at Home
Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Allergic to Peanuts? Tree Nuts Might Still Be Safe
Source: Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Related Resource: Practice Paper: Role of the RDN in the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergies
Less Salt, Fewer Nighttime Bathroom Trips?
Treatment Seeking Low Among Teens With Eating Disorders
Source: International Journal of Eating Disorders
Related Resource: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Pocket Guide to Eating Disorders, 2nd Ed
Ask Well: Red Cabbage vs Blueberries
Healthy trends at International Food Exhibition