Knee-Jerk Nutrition Reactions

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

Many parents feel, “My child needs to eat better.” Society, unfortunately, has a knee-jerk reaction and assumes that “eat better” is synonymous with “cut back on calories.” As you just learned in the previous post, this lacks critical understanding: Calories do not represent nutrients!  Focusing solely on calories is a doorway to disordered thinking and eating.  How can this be? Many children say to me, “I love cookies, and my mom says we can’t have them!” I reply, “You enjoy eating cookies, and giving them up or not having them makes you sad. It feels like punishment. It feels like your mom is only concerned about calories and not your happiness.”  This reflection often generates a nod in agreement, and a new sense that the underlying conflict and underlying fear is starting to be understood. When kids and parents open up and discuss what they value — health, nutrient density, enjoyment, fun, and discovery — there is a shift in how to view nutrition. It moves from a single-focus concept to something much more workable. This shift allows the child to hear the love and concern that is in a parent’s heart while letting the parent hear the fear and sense of deprivation that comes from rapid or rigid dietary change.

mefk-value-of-calories-meme-012Unfortunately, parents are not offered a sane way to deal with normal cravings and desires around food. Kids don’t remember the complex concept of nutrient density when they are really hungry or faced with  tempting choices. Even if there was the coolest phone app in the whole world available, when hunger or craving is present, it is challenging to make a “good” food choice.

Hunger and Fullness ScaleThis is why healthy professionals like myself love Mindful Eating.  Mindfulness helps parent pause to see the BIG picture. What do I mean? When your kid wants to eat junkie food, pause and learn how hungry they are. [Hunger rating scales]. The hunger-rating scale above offers visual and color cues to help evaluate this experience. If you are working with a younger child, consider using the Hunger/Fullness Peas scale.  Including an assessment of hunger will allow you to have a more complex discussion.  If your kid is “starving” and has identified hunger as any number in red, explain that eating 1-2 cookies wouldn’t make a dent in his hunger and that he needs real food, i.e., something with protein and fiber. If he looks at you with those sad eyes and says, “My day was terrible! I need these cookies,” you have an opportunity to help him sort out how to soothe his feelings without using food.  Rating hunger will help you explore  “why” is my kid choosing to eat “that” food? Or “that” amount? 

mefk-value-of-calories-meme-013Checking in with your child’s hunger is an excellent way to help him know you are thinking about him and his experience.  Taking time to listen to your child is nourishing the bonds between parent and child. It is in direct opposition to the tabloid lists of “to-do” that seem so easy but accomplish so little.  It is hard to parent. The websites The Family Meal Project, Ellyn Satter and Associates, and How To Raise Healthy Eaters offer parents great information, ideas, and suggestions about nutrition — not lists of “just” and “only” suggestions that make parenting a frustrating kid seem easy! In the next post, we will explore when to talk about nutrition and calories to your child.  Join me as we identify ideas, interesting concepts, and engaging ways to talk with your kids about what matters most about nutrition — your family values!

There are more great ideas for parents on how to promote sustainable change and balanced eating.  Sign up for Mindful Eating for Kids today!

1 thought on “Knee-Jerk Nutrition Reactions

  1. Pingback: What i discovered today…Knee-Jerk Nutrition Reactions – cindyscribner

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