As a parent, feeding children requires successful parenting skills, an understanding of nutritional requirements, a willingness to set a good household precedent and ensuring sound eating habits for the future. In our experience with servicing nutrition plans to children, our youngest being just 7 years old, there have been some fundamental issues that are initiated by parents early on in the child’s development that cause weight problems, poor eating habits and a bad relationship with food. This usually becomes problematic when:
- The child is a picky eater
- Food is used as a reward
- Parents are unsure as to the requirements of their child including nutritional requirements and portion sizes
- Poor eating habits already exist in the household
The Picky EatersMany parents have good intentions for their child’s diet, though feel hindered by the fact that they like ‘less of the good stuff’ and more of the ‘junk’. So instead of feeding for health and fuel they just don’t want their child going hungry. Generally, this means more food sources that are less nutrient-dense which can generally mean a higher calorie intake. Picky eating isn’t really about food. It is about control, a reluctance to try new things, sensory sensitivity, chewing and/or swallowing problem, or another issue. We encourage from an early age to explore diversity in your child’s diet and if they’ve surpassed the ‘early age’ bracket then try and slowly bring in new foods without stressing the necessity to eat one food group on the plate over another, which can often cause rebellion.
Food as a reward or comforter:In a recent study, researchers found that children were more likely to turn to food when they were upset and eating when they weren’t hungry if their mothers used food as a strategy for soothing them. In another study, researchers found that mothers who reported using food to soothe their infants had heavier children. When emotions are attached to a child’s eating, it creates a tendency to divorce the parent of what is reasonable and acceptable in regards to food choices in order to emotionally satisfy the child. Refrain from rewarding or comforting your child with food and instead find a substitution with a greater benefit to the child’s mind and body, like a novelty activity. For example, flip out, ice skating etc. Try not to set a foundation in the household for emotions to trigger a behaviour pattern of resorting to food. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when a child is emotional ensure they still follow through with eating their meals and don’t stop eating as an emotional reaction.
Uncertainty as to the requirements of a child:There is clouded speculation amongst parents in terms of what nutritional intake is required for children, together with the appropriate portion sizes for their age and genetic makeup which determine the weight and build of the child. The nutritional requirements of a child are based on the same principles as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same types of nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat:
- Meats and dairy are good for meeting essential protein requirements through foods such as seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and legumes, yogurt, milk and cheese.
- Fruit, vegetables and grains such as bananas, apples, oranges, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, white potato, bread, oats, cereal and pasta are good sources to meet carbohydrate requirements.
- Nuts, avocado, salmon, full cream dairy products, nut butter etc. are good for meeting essential fat requirements, but remember these foods are high in calories, containing 9 calories per gram of fat as opposed to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates.
- Girls and boys between 2-3 years old require roughly 1,000-1,400 calories per day, depending on growth and activity level.
- Girls and boys between 4-6 years old require 1,200-1,800 calories per day, depending on growth and activity level.
- Boys between 4-8 years old require 1,200-2,000 depending on growth and activity level.
- Girls between 9-13 years old require 1,400-2,200 calories, depending on growth and activity level.
- Girls between 14-18 years old require 1,800-2,400, depending on growth and activity level.
- Boys between 14-18 years old require 2,000-3,200, depending on growth and activity level.