This is one of my favourite quotes, and I include it in most of my workshops and presentations because it sums up in one sentence why it is so important for parents be concerned about raising kids to be healthy eaters.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you may have noticed that my approach to kid’s nutrition is a little different from a lot of nutritionists. I’m not going to tell you exactly what you should be feeding your kids (although kids with certain health issues or intolerances can benefit from including or eliminating certain foods).
What I really emphasize (preach?) is helping your kids develop healthy habits so they can all live long and vibrant lives.
I’m guessing that if I asked you what your goal was when it comes to feeding your children, you might say “I want them to eat more vegetables” (this is totally normal by the way, and I hear it ALL the time). Wouldn’t it be great if our kids sat down at every meal and just gobbled up veggies by the handful?
It does seem that tallying the number of vegetables eaten in a day (no matter how it is achieved), is the measure of success when it comes to feeding kids these days. But let’s take a closer look at the reason behind this.
Yes, vegetables are super healthy – they prevent disease, slow down aging and are important for a long and vibrant life. They are chock full of vitamins and minerals and are extremely nutrient dense – meaning they pack a high percentage of nutrients in comparison to the number of calories they contain. Vegetables rock. Enough said.
In fact, you probably want your kids to eat more real food in general – not just vegetables – because you know how important it is. (Which it definitely is – and you can read more about that here.)
And if you are a parent with a picky eater, who isn’t eating much of anything real or otherwise, you are probably feeling a whole lot of pressure to make sure your kids are eating certain foods so that they get those vitamins – no matter what it takes (enter the bribing, the begging and the sneaking – am I right?)
What is a healthy eater?
When I talk about a healthy eater, I don’t just mean a child who only eats “healthy” foods (although that is part of it). I’m talking habits here.
My definition of a healthy eater is inspired by the feeding guru Ellyn Satter. She calls it “Eating Competence” but really, it’s the same thing:
A healthy eater is a child who has a happy and healthy relationship with food, is at ease with the feeding process, is open to trying new foods and is able to regulate their own appetite in a manner that allows them to eat the right amounts of enjoyable and nourishing food when they want and need it.
If we can help kids develop this positive attitude when they are young, they are likely to become healthy eaters as they get older – meaning they will eat a wide variety of different foods (and therefore WILL naturally get the vitamins they need without even having to think about it) and will maintain the ability to self-regulate the amount of food they eat.
Why I don’t want you to focus on nutrition…
Focusing on nutrition means insisting that kids eat their vegetables using whatever means necessary out of fear that if they don’t eat them, they aren’t going to be healthy.
And don’t feel guilty about this – your worries are totally valid. It’s SO easy to get caught up in nutrition. With the media focus on how much of each vitamin you need, the pressure to follow the Canada Food Guide to the tee, and plethora of fortified foods marketed by the food industry. It is our mama bear duty to worry when we think our kids aren’t getting what they need to be healthy. Plus, as moms we deal with a lot of external pressure from family, friends and other moms (hello judgement!) to have children that gobble up all of their veggies. But…
You will probably be shocked to hear me say this but focusing on nutrition can be detrimental to our kids health (yep, a nutritionist just said that!)
Focusing on nutrition often means pressuring – or forcing – your child to eat, which has very clearly shown to work at getting the food into them in the short-term, but to cause them to actually eat less of these foods in the long-term (not to mention that it can impact their ability to follow their own hunger cues).
Why is raising a healthy eater so important?
And the long run is what is most important because when our kids grow up we aren’t going to be there to force broccoli down their throats, am I right?
You probably know the parable about giving a man a fish? Well, in this case, you can force your kids to eat their vegetables and they will be healthy for a day, or you provide a child with the tools to become a healthy eater, and they will have a healthy relationship with food and will stay healthy for their lifetime.
So if you can make it your goal to get them to actually like vegetables and other healthy foods (instead of just forcing them down to please you), there is a pretty good chance that they will grow up to have a healthy relationship with food and turn into healthy eating adults.
And if we can do that, our job as parents is done. So we can just ride off into the sunset knowing we’ve set up our kids to live a long and vibrant life.
Well, when it comes to eating anyways. Now if only I could figure out how to make Tyson get himself dressed in the morning. He’s really going to struggle as an adult if he can’t master that one!