Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD is a mom of two, registered dietitian, and co-creator of the Fearless Feeding Community in preparation for her first book due out next year. Maryann is also founder and creator of Raise Healthy Eaters and blogs at WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition.
As parents, we often define feeding success by the number of foods children eat, especially healthy items. Not only is this definition of success limited, it leaves most parents filled with guilt because children are still learning about food.
As a dietitian and family nutrition expert, I want to introduce you to a whole new way at looking at successful feeding by sharing 5 secrets. This outlook will not only empower you, it just might make you a more confident feeder.
1. Think of your child as a future adult.
How and what parents feed children has a lasting impact on how they will eat into adulthood. For example, if food is constantly used as a reward, children are much more likely to reward themselves with food as an adult. If they are always being nagged to eat veggies, they probably won’t choose veggies when out on their own.
Always think about how the way you feed today impacts your child for life, when they are making choices on their own.
2. Focus on your job.
When I teach classes to moms of toddlers, the light bulbs always go off when I tell them it isn’t their job to get their child to eat. Their job, which is more than enough work, is to provide balanced meals in a positive environment. The child’s job is to decide how much and what to eat of what is offered.
This Division of Responsibility, created by international feeding expert Ellyn Satter, melts away the tension at the table and gives children some choice in the matter. It also helps ensure that children regulate food intake since they are the ones in charge of how much to eat.
3. Keep expectations high and pressure low.
According to a study published in Appetite, children pressured to eat soup not only ate less, but made 5 times more negative comments during the meal than those not pressured. But worse yet, some of the children who finished their clean bowl boasted about it, catching on that eating more food is better.
The key is to have high expectations for eating without all that pressure. Your child doesn’t like a something? That’s okay. Set the expectation that she will in the future because “taste buds grow up too.” Children need many exposures and tastes to move along to food acceptance — and a pleasant environment to learn in.
4. Make meals rhythmic.
Predictable meals are key to successful feeding. This means families eat around the same times, at the table or a designated place, where they can focus on food. In between meal eating is discouraged.
Structured eating helps on so many levels. First it ensures that hunger is the reason to eat and not the TV or boredom. It helps parents prioritize food requests — “no, not today but how about tomorrow during snack time?” And lastly, it ensures that children come to meals with an appetite.
5. See eating from your child’s perspective.
The most overlooked cause of feeding challenges is a lack of understanding for what is going on behind the scenes. A child’s development, both in terms of growth and cognitive changes, has a big impact on why they eat the way they do.
Understanding what to expect, whether it’s rapid growth (infant), picky eating (toddler), the need to fit in (school age) or experimenting by trying different diets (teen years), gives moms much-needed perspective. Often, we blame ourselves for such challenges, when kids are just moving along normal development.
The best way to define successful feeding isn’t in terms of what your child eats, but that she enjoys eating and coming to the table (most of the time) and is being exposed to a variety of food.
|Summer Vegetable Slowcooker Lasagna||
- 8-ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 cup carrots, shredded
- 3 cups zucchini, shredded and firmly packed
- 26-ounce jar roasted garlic marinara sauce
- 8-10 regular lasagna noodles (not no-boil)
- Begin by reserving ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese.
- In a bowl, combine remaining mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, Parmesan and ½ teaspoon salt.
- Cook carrots in microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir carrots into cheese mixture and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, stir remaining ½ teaspoon salt into zucchini.
- Spray slow cooker with cooking spray or brush with olive oil. Spread 1/3 sauce on bottom. Gently break 2 noodles to fill and cover bottom. Spread 1 cup cheese mixture over the noodles. Top with 1 cup shredded zucchini followed by 2/3 cup marinara sauce. Repeat with a second layer (2 noodles, 1 cup cheese mixture, 1 cup shredded zucchini and 2/3 cup marinara sauce).
- Add a third layer of noodles and top with remaining cheese mixture and zucchini only. Top with noodles and remaining marinara sauce, then sprinkle with the reserved ½ cup mozzarella.
- Cover slow cooker and cook lasagna on High for 3 hours. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Do you feel like a successful feeder for your children? If not, what do you feel is holding you back?