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Frequently Asked Questions

Beverly Pressey offers customized online or on-site seminars for educators or parents of children ages 3 months to 6 years.   Personal consultations are available online or in person. For questions & availability please email Beverly@CreatingHealthyEaters.com

What is the number one misconception about raising healthy eaters?

It is not a parent’s job or responsibility to make a child eat certain foods.  We all want our children to eat healthy foods and there are many ways to allow this to happen.  Our first job is to offer healthy foods often, but not to force a child to eat.    A hungry child will eat, so the more often healthy foods are offered, the more of them will be eaten.  But children are sometimes fearful of food, not hungry, or more interested in trying to get boundaries than in eating.   Unfortunately, these behaviours often result in disaster: a power struggle of over who gets their way.

We can avoid this struggle by not over managing how much and what our child eats.  Remember, you offer what you would like your child to eat.  Then the rest is up to them.  They can eat and nourish their body or choose not to eat with the consequence of hunger coming very soon.  The beauty of this is that you were not the “bad guy” in this scenario.  Hunger caused the discomfort, the result of them choosing not to eat.
But some parents can not let go of this managerial stance.  They micro-manage a child’s eating.  These are the parents that you see deciding for the child what food should be eaten first.  Supposedly this insures that nutritious foods will be eaten first when the child is most hungry, however telling a child what they need to eat first undermines their need for some independence and their reliance and confidence in their own internal cues that guide them naturally.  Additionally, studies have shown that a child given a variety of food over time will in fact choose foods that meet their nutritional needs. 

I often hear “you need to take one more bite”, as if that last bite guarantees the exact amount of calories or nutrients necessary at that moment in time.  Or observe a parent who requires that a child finish a certain amount of a food.   A child instinctively knows how much food they need, the more we trust them the more they will make good decisions.   If they make the wrong choice, hunger will be the natural consequence.

How can I encourage my child to eat a healthy diet?

Bribes, punishments and rewards are all disciplinary techniques we use to get our children to eat.  Bribes and rewards are really the same.  We promise X if the child will eat Y.   The flip side of this technique is punishing a child for not eating.  Many parents have told me that they have had success with these techniques and I don’t doubt that. 
But these techniques produce children who eat for the wrong reasons. These children are eating to either avoid or gain something else.  That’s not an emotionally healthy reason to eat.    A healthy eater is a child who eats when they are hungry and stops when they are full.  Forcing a child to eat with bribes, punishments and rewards allows the parent to feel better; they got their child to eat some “healthy” food, for their own good.  The parent may feel like they have done a good job, but they actually did their child’s job.  For long term results it is best to let a child to decide whether to eat or not. 

Creating a healthy eater includes creating a child with healthy life long eating patterns.  I child that is eating for a reward or bribe or to avoid punishment will certainly not choose to eat those foods once on his own.  And children are on their own earlier than you might expect.  Some schools have first kindergarteners going through the cafeteria line.  A child who has the opportunity to try new foods when they are ready will gradually widen their food choices.  These children, once they decide they like tomatoes, will always like tomatoes.  A child forced to eat a tomato will likely avoid them, not because of the taste, but because of the memories associated with eating tomatoes.

Allowing a child to have dessert if they eat their dinner is a bribe or reward.  With holding dessert because a child did not eat dessert is the same as a punishment.  So, what should you do it your family likes to have a fun dessert after dinner?  I recommend any of three approaches.  The simplest is to have the fun dessert at another time, either a snack earlier in the day or later in the evening.  Another is sometimes harder for parents to do, but more effective in the long run.  Whether a child eats dinner or not, let them have a child sized portion of the dessert.  If this child has been offered a variety of healthy foods during the day, they may not really need dinner.  If the child eats the dessert instead of dinner, they will be hungry very soon after dessert.  Now hunger will teach them why they need to eat dinner.  Do not give them any other food when this happens, but feel free to explain to them that they are probably hungry because they only had dessert for dinner.  Your last choice is the hardest for parents.  Put the dessert out with all of the other dinner foods at the beginning of the meal.  Yes, your child will likely eat the dessert first, but as it is just for fun and only 1 portion is available, they will be most likely still hungry after having this fun food.  Then they will probably eat dinner.

Interestingly, there have been several studies that show that the more we manage our children’s eating decisions, the more likely they are to become over weight and have emotional problems with foods.  The study observed parents eating a meal with their child.  Immediately after the meal the children were put in a room without parents.  There were activities in the room as well as a variety of snacks.  It was observed that the children whose parents had over managed their child’s meal where more likely to eat again, right after lunch.  These children were also the ones who were already over weight.

How do I eliminate meal time power struggles?

Our children are all born with different personalities and temperaments.  Their relationships with food will also vary from child to child and age to age in the same child.  Some children will be open to new flavors, tastes, smells, textures and colors in their foods, others not. 

But all children can be healthy eaters.  Healthy eaters are children that eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full (sated).  We know our children are born with this sense, as we feed on demand the first year of life.  We follow the baby’s signals and assume they know what they are doing.  They will continue to know what they are doing if we let them.  This does not mean we need to continue to feed on demand, but we do need to provide a variety of healthy foods regularly.  Given this routine a child will eat when they are hungry and meet their nutritional needs.

    •  Let your child know that you trust their decision to eat or not.  You do this by offering food regularly and then letting your child to choose to eat or not.  If they choose not to eat remind them that it is snack or meal time and if they are hungry this is when we eat.  Let them know that when the meal is over, there will be no more food until the next snack or meal time.
    • Offer all foods with the same body language and tone of voice.  No food should always be forbidden, no food must always be eaten.  I use two categories of foods when talking about nutrition: foods that help you grow big and strong and fun foods. 
    • Don’t expect a child to eat a “well balanced” meal every time they eat, or even every day.  Look at their food choices over the course of a week.  If you have offered a variety of foods, their diet will automatically be balanced
    • You want to win the war, not every battle.  Realize there will be days when your child may eat only fun foods-maybe the 4th of July, a day at the county fair or a day with their grandparents.  If these days are infrequent, your child will still be well nourished over time.
    • Always offer a “good and good for you food” (maybe apple slices) every time a fun food (perhaps cookies) is served.  Offer one serving of the fun food.  When it is gone and your child says that they are still hungry, tell them that the cookies were just for fun, but we have apple slices.  Let them eat as much apple as they want.  A child should be able to eat as much as they need and learn to stop when they decide they have had enough.
    • Know that there will be times in your child’s life when they will refuse a certain food or category of food, even a food that they previously ate.  They will go in and out of preferences, preferring certain foods for a meal, day, week or months.  Then suddenly they will show preferences for other food and perhaps show a dislike for their previously favorite food.  The quantity of food they eat will also change, sometimes daily, weekly or monthly.  This is all normal.  Just keep doing what you have always been doing.  Offer a variety of healthy foods over the course of a day, with the addition of fun foods if you like. 
Can I prevent my child becoming obese?

Children are born with an intact instinct to survive, which includes eating foods that will healthfully sustain their bodies.  Unfortunately in our attempts to nourish our children, we become disciplinarians. This will simply not work. In fact it could permanently damage your child's innate ability to regulate their own appetite, leading to life long eating and weight problems.  Studies show that punishing a child for not eating or using rewards or bribes leads can easily lead to a child who over or under eats as a teen or adult.  Therefore, creating a healthy eater is about helping a child to maintain an emotionally healthy attitude about food for a life time.  A child who is a healthy eater:

    • recognizes when their body needs food due to hunger, not due to emotions, outside circumstances or the need to control themselves or others.
    • recognizes satiety (fullness) and stops eating.
    • may sometimes chose to eat more than necessary because the food tastes so good, or the experience is very enjoyable, but they realize what they are doing and they don’t do this on regular basis.
    • eats a variety of foods.
    • eats both healthy and fun foods.
    • does not eat or refuse food to control their environment, their body size or others.

So how do you create healthy eater?

  • Offer a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis.
  • Offer foods at least every 3 hours and for some children every 1 ½ hours.  This provides food security for children, they know they will be fed at regular intervals.
  • Let a child eat until they have decided they have had enough, no matter how much or little they eat.  Children’s eating likes, dislikes, and amounts consumed are erratic day-to- day, month-to-month and year-to-year.  If they don’t eat much on one day or one meal they will make up for it later.
  • Respect a child’s decision to eat or not, but feel free to remind them that if they choose not to eat when food is served, no food will be available until the next snack or meal time.
  • Do not allow anything but water between snack and meal times.  This gives the parent a break from being a 24 hours waiter and teaches the child to eat when food is offered. 
  • When a fun food is being served (in a limited portion) always offer an unlimited amount of a healthy food with it so a child can eat until they decide they have had enough.
  • Help children focus on how their body feels during a meal by not distracting the eating process with television, reading or intrusive music or radio programs.
  • Do not impose rewards, bribes, or punishments for eating or not eating.  The natural consequences of hunger or satiety will teach our children.
  • knows that their parents or care givers trust and respect their sense of hunger and satiety.