Children are notorious for being fussy eaters, especially when it comes to healthy eating. With the abundance of fast food specifically marketed towards children, a parent’s job isn’t made any easier.
Improving a child’s relationship with food from an early age will help ensure that they adopt healthy habits as an adult. The following article will list some ways to help improve a child’s relationship with food.
Offer them a variety of food choices
Whilst this can be difficult for larger meals, it is important to let children have more choice when it comes to what they consume. Children do not like to be forced to do things, and they can form negative connotations around food they are compelled to eat.
Giving children a choice between different healthy foods, rather than railroading them with a specific food, will help combat this issue. Offering a variety will also keep things interesting for them and teach them that enjoying new and different food is part of life.
Involve them in cooking and meal preparation
One of the best ways to improve a child’s relationship with food is to involve them in cooking and meal preparation. Knowing what goes into preparing the meals they enjoy, you can give them a great appreciation of food by exposing them to the sights, sounds, and smells of the cooking process.
A lot of the time young children are fussy about eating foods that seem strange to them, and this is a natural survival instinct. By making them familiar with food in different stages of preparation, they will become more open-minded about what they eat as they grow up.
Many children develop unhealthy habits as adults because they have not grown up learning how to cook. Adults who don’t grow up with kitchen skills tend to find cooking a chore and resort to unhealthy options, like takeaway or microwaveable meals.
It’s a good idea to get your kids involved in the cooking process as early as it is safe for them to do so. There are a variety of ways that children can participate in cooking without needing to handle knives or mess with stovetops; just make sure you are supervising them.When a child is involved in preparing the meal they later get to eat, they will naturally have a greater understanding and appreciation of cooking. Teaching them the benefits of cooking their own meals while they are young is something that they will thank you for as they get older.
Slowly introduce new foods to them
Children can react negatively to new food if it is suddenly introduced to them as a departure from the norm. This experience can make them suspicious of new foods and give them a narrow outlook around what they eat.
It’s smarter to slowly introduce new foods to them by incorporating them into dishes they already like. For example, if your child loves macaroni and cheese, then you can introduce finely diced vegetables to enhance the nutrition of the meal and get them to experience new tastes.
This is particularly effective if you are trying to improve the nutrition of older children who are already set in their ways. A few small healthy changes here and there can snowball over time and make them more open to trying new things in the future.
Try to learn about new balanced dishes that you can cook and introduce to your children in a gradual manner. The more variety you present to your child, the quicker they are going to open up to healthier food experiences.
Replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones
Snacking is the bane of both child and adult diets, and the wide variety of unhealthy snacking options out there can make it very difficult to get away from. Many snacks are packaged with flashy colours and cartoon characters that make them more appealing to children. These snacks are then placed strategically at checkouts, so children see and demand that you buy them when you go shopping.
If you have a child that likes to snack, see what you can do about replacing their snack of choice with something healthier. There are plenty of options for healthier snacks out there that are packaged with children in mind and make ideal additions to their school lunchbox.
Try giving plenty of variety to keep things interesting for them. Keep in mind that children will demand fewer snacks if they have healthier main meals that give them the energy they need throughout the day.
There are so many challenges that come with raising children. In most families, a child’s relationship with food typically takes a backseat to more immediate concerns. However, it’s essential that you nurture a good relationship with food so that your child grows into an adult with a healthy body and mind.
References: Raising Children Network, Healthy Eating Habits for Kids. Access on 20 October 2020, Updated on 13-12-2018
Kids Health, Healthy eating. Access on 17 October 2020, Updated on June 2018
Interview with Dr Kimberley O’Brien. Principal Child Psychologist, Quirky Kid Clinic on 16 October 2020
We have recently welcomed a new graphic designer here at Quirky Kid.
Lisa Diebold has been a much-awaited member of our team and will head our new publishing creatives. There are lots of projects Lisa is currently working on and she will soon show us a bit more – watch this space.
Here is, however, our first infographic about eating disorders. This project has been developed in partnership with Dr. Kathryn Berry, a Clinical Psychologist based at our office in Austinmer and Lisa.
Eating disorders are among some of the most serious and challenging mental illnesses that affect children and young people. Eating disorders are characterised by the presence of unhealthy or extreme views of one’s weight and/or shape, which lead the young person to engage in dangerous eating and/ or exercise behaviours. These behaviours severely impact on the young person’s life, affecting their ability to function at school, home and in their relationships.
In 2012, it was estimated that around 4% of the Australian population suffered from an eating disorder, with females making up more than half the total (The Paying the Price Report). Estimates suggest up to 75% of adolescent girls perceive themselves as overweight or want to lose weight (www.nedc.com.au). Real prevalence rates may be even higher due to the secrecy, shame and guilt often associated with eating disorders in children and young people.
Watch our Info graphic on Eating Disorders
While eating disorders in children and young people can start at any age, youth between the ages of 13-18 years appear to be most at risk (TPTPR). The Mission Australia’s Youth Survey, 2012, demonstrated that body image remains to be one of the top three issues concerning Australian young people. The age at which children are starting to think about body image and dieting appears to be reducing (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003). Children as young as five years have identified the desire to be slimmer (Hamilton, conference) and around a quarter of our teenagers are experimenting with dangerous dieting behaviour (eg. taking laxatives, engaging in excessive exercise) (Hutchings,Conference). Australian research suggests that the prevalence of disordered eating behaviours have increased two-fold between 1995 and 2005 (TPTPR).
In light of this, knowing how to identify the signs of an eating disorder and knowing how to help your child are essential.
What are the types eating disorders?
There are several types of eating disorders in children and young people, with the most recognised being Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by significant weight loss, below what would be expected for the person’s age and height, with an accompanying intense fear of gaining weight or becoming ‘fat’. People with Anorexia Nervosa see their bodies in a distorted way, typically believing they are fat even when they are extremely underweight.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by seemingly uncontrollable episodes of eating to excess, followed by behaviours aimed to rid the body of the calories ingested, such as undertaking excessive exercise, taking laxatives and vomiting. People with Bulimia have a preoccupation with their weight and shape and typically feel a great sense of guilt and shame, often meaning they go to great lengths to hide their behaviours.
While Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are typically the most recognised eating disorders, the most common eating disorder is Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), which affects more than half of those with a diagnosed eating disorder. A person experiencing EDNOS typically presents with a distorted view of their weight and shape, an intense fear of gaining weight and disturbed eating patterns. While a person with EDNOS will share but not meet all the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, the disorder is by no means any less significant or serious.
What causes eating disorders?
Two significant risk factors for developing an eating disorders to be aware of are:
disordered eating eg. dieting, fasting, avoiding food groups. Australian and New Zealand research indicates that engaging in moderate dieting behaviour puts young people at a six-fold risk of developing an eating disorder and that engaging in extreme dieting puts young people at an 18-fold risk (www.nedc.com.au).
body dissatisfaction eg. feelings of shame and anger over one’s body shape, preoccupation with body shape, distorted body image (TPTPR).
While there is no one cause of eating disorders, genetic vulnerabilities (eg. a parent with restrictive eating behaviours), psychological factors (eg. low self esteem, perfectionists traits), cultural factors (eg. a culture that promotes thinness and dieting) and stress (eg. bereavement) all appear to play a role in the development of eating disorders.
How can I tell if my child may be developing an eating disorder?
Below are some signs that your child could be developing an eating disorder. Of all the signs, disordered eating, such as restrictive dieting, fasting, limiting food groups, binge eating, laxative use, self induced vomiting and using diet pills, is the most significant indicator that your child may be developing an eating disorder.
Additional signs include:
Physical changes: for example, significant changes in weight and weight loss, disturbed menstruation in females, general lethargy and looking pale and gaunt, feelings of dizziness, dehydration, sleep difficulties, dental decay.
Behavioural changes: for example, frequent weighing of self and commenting on being ‘fat’, secretive eating habits, wearing baggy clothes to conceal weight loss, denying there is a problem, attempting to harm oneself, withdrawing from socialising and family life.
Psychological Signs: for example, expressing fear of gaining weight, foods and bodily changes, self loathing, expressions of guilt, changes in mood and loss of motivation and enthusiasm for life.
What do I do if I am concerned that my child has an eating disorder?
Early intervention is best when it comes to treating eating disorders. People with eating disorders commonly attempt to hide their eating behaviours and weight changes from family and friends and so early detection can be difficult. Here are some tips for parents:
be familiar with your child’s eating habits by regularly eating together. This will help you recognise if eating habits change and/ or become restrictive
listen to how your child discusses food – are they talking about dieting, ‘bad’ foods, being fat?.
look at your child – has their mood changed? are they more difficult or secretive at meal times? Are they struggling with getting to sleep and/ or worrying about their body image?
If so, these are warning signs that your child needs help. Given that eating disorders can result in serious medical complications it is advisable that the first step be a visit to your GP.
The good news is, with intervention, support and commitment to recovery, eating disorders are treatable. Treatment for an eating disorder typically involves the help of variety of people including a psychologist, nutritionist, GP, paediatrician, psychiatrist and specialist physician. This ‘team approach’ is aimed to address the eating disorder from a medical and psychological perspective and support all of the child’s needs. While some children may require hospitalisation if they are acutely unwell, treatment typically occurs in a community setting.
Treatments of eating disorders in children and young people typically take a family focus. Families are involved in all treatment phases, for example, in helping their child gain control of disordered eating behaviours and supporting their child in addressing some of the psychological and emotional issues that arise.Treatment involves helping the child/ young person back to a healthy weight range while addressing their distorted attitudes to themselves and food.
Families form an important part of treatment, as children and young people with eating disorders do not always view their eating as and problem and often minimise their problem behaviours. Showing your child that you are concerned about them and available to help is an essential role parents and caregivers have in the recovery process.
Recovery is an individual process that can be lengthy and include many ups and downs. The important thing to remember is that bumps in the road are common, however, should be viewed as learning tools rather than setbacks. Focus on what you and your child have learnt from the experience rather than the negatives and frequently reflect on the overall gains your child has made.
As a parent and/or caregiver, it is important to reflect healthy ideas about your own body image, avoid looking in the mirror and making negative comments about yourself, share with your child all the things you value about them that are not associated with their weight or shape and remind them of all the positives associated with getting better.
What can we do as a community?
Today’s society can be a challenging one for our children to grow up in. The constant portrayals in the media of super skinny women and muscled men can lead children to measure themselves against ideals which are hard or impossible to obtain.
As a community, some ways to help our young people cope with these influences are:
Discuss with children that media portrayals are typically unrealistic and misrepresented. Media portrayals of models and celebrities are typically airbrushed, photoshopped and reconfigured in such a way, that moves these images dangerously away reality. Help your child critique the images they see and view them for what they really are.
Limit and filter images that you child is seeing in the media and create a space for open discussion when unrealistic images are viewed.
Discuss the uniqueness of individuals. Help children and young people identify unique qualities in themselves and their friends which make them valuable and important members of society. Help children recognise that they are more than what they look like and that being a certain body shape does not bring happiness, success or love.
Be a role model: focus on your own positive qualities and talents, express positive attitudes to your own body, have a healthy and balanced lifestyle that incorporates healthy eating and exercise and focus on healthy-lifestyle goals rather than weight-loss focused goals
Say positive things to yourself and others each day. Children and adolescents form beliefs about themselves from others around them. Being positive and content helps children internalise these attitudes for themselves.
Lobby the media, fashion and advertising industries to adhere to codes such as The Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image and Positive Body Image, which support the use of positive body image practices.
The Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2012 National Eating Disorders Collaboration 2011 What’s Happening to our Girls? What’s Happening to our Boys? 2012 Booked Out Conference Sydney http://www.maggiehamilton.org American Academy of Pediatrics (2003). Policy statement: Identifying and treating eating disorders. Pediatrics, 111, 204-211
The Paying The Price Report: The economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia
Headspace: National Youth Mental Health Foundation: Myth Buster: Eating Disorders Fact Sheet
For most parents, getting children to eat vegetables can sometimes be a difficult task. Dinner table tantrums and cries of distaste are a familiar scene to many households, leaving parents to come up with clever ways to coax vegetables into fussy tummies. From hiding vegetables in children’s meals to dramatic battles between wills, (“no you can’t leave the table until those carrots are gone!”), these techniques can be exhausting and certainly, exasperating. In response, we have prepared the following fact sheet with suggestions for taking a different approach.
Tips for Parents:
Instead of trying to force your children to eat vegetables, encourage them to simply try them, individually. If your child doesn’t like a certain vegetable, try to maintain a positive attitude and do not get upset. Consistently encourage your child to try a new vegetable. Through this trial and error process, your child will likely discover some vegetables that they can, at the very least, tolerate.
Teach your child about the nutritional value of vegetables. While your child may not like them, it is still important that children understand why they are necessary to eat. This may make them more inclined to eat vegetables in the future.
Try to work around your child’s individual tastes. Most children do not hate ALL vegetables. Experiment with creative recipes using some of your child’s favourites.
Tricks for parents:
Make vegetables the most easily accessible snack to your child. This may mean keeping pre-cut vegetables in the fridge or on the table. When children are hungriest, they may be inclined to eat the vegetables that they wouldn’t otherwise choose.
Make your child familiar with vegetables by serving them in some form at every meal.
Add additional vegetables to ready-made packaged foods. This will add some nutrients to the meal without largely changing the taste.
Serve vegetables with salad dressing or sauce for dipping. When children can use these sauces to mask the taste of the vegetables, they may be more willing to eat them.
Cook with vegetable based sauces whenever possible. This way, children consume a serving of vegetables without even realizing it.
When grocery shopping, let your children choose their favorite vegetables, and get them involved in the meal preparation. When children are given input and their preferences are considered, they may be more willing to eat the meals that are prepared.
Practices to avoid:
Avoid constantly trying to hide vegetables in everyday foods. If your child notices the hidden vegetables, they may feel deceived and distrustful about future meals. Also, children need to recognize that vegetables are part of everyday foods. This way, they can identify the importance of vegetables in daily eating.