Updated: Jan 22
It's a lot of responsibility to be in charge of deciding what to put on your children's plates and when to put it there. Especially with so many conflicting health opinions to choose from.
After 40+ years of hands-on experience teaching and feeding very young children and working with their families, I can offer you these 6 truths to think about.
Food and emotions can't be separated.
Think about the excitement around birthday parties and holidays. Kids get so excited about food and friends that it's hard to tell if their state is due to the sugar levels or pure happiness.
The only good way to combat this is to have boundaries that are reasonable and enforceable around food. That way your kids will know what to expect from you before they start celebrating and that can greatly reduce whining, pleading and begging.
Children behave poorly when they're hungry. They get hungry too soon if they don't eat balanced meals and snacks. Plan snacks and meals that are balanced and no more than 3 hours apart. Balance means protein, fat and healthy carbs. This should help greatly with their moods. Also teach them to identify the feelings of hungry, full and almost full. It'll take a while but once they can tell you what they're feeling, they can learn to manage the emotions that go along with that feeling.
Children have a natural burst of energy after snacks and meals. Go with it. Plan something spontaneously active right after eating such as music, dance, climbing or going outside. This is an old child care provider trick that works wonders. It has to be an activity that they can do independently.
Children love carbs so choose the carbs you offer them wisely. And be careful of offering carbs, even fruits without some balancing fats and protein. Kids can get blood sugar spikes that lead to a letdown just like you can.
Uneven blood sugar can greatly affect your child's mood and behavior.
Protect your own and your child's energy levels by providing balanced meals and snacks, even if it means toting a small cooler around with you. Remember that good food spoils and may need refrigeration. Crackers and fruit roll-ups last forever but can cause blood sugar spikes when they're used to fill up in lieu of other more balancing foods. By that I mean foods that contain protein and fat. Here are some some kid friendly suggestions for those 2 long neglected food groups.
* eggs, hummus, cottage cheese, mild cheddar, salmon, meatballs,, nitrite-free luncheon meats, tuna, sausage, turkey, chicken thighs, chicken legs, string cheese, tofu, edamame beans, nut butters, organic all-beef hot dogs, parmesan cheese, chickpeas, Joy! (it's vegan and gluten-free).
Some children have food sensitivities and allergies and they're too young to describe how they feel so look out for unusual reactions to foods and be sure to seek medical attention if you suspect a food of being harmful or agitating to your child. I would suggest going with your gut on this one.
Relax when feeding children. You won't fight with them if you focus on being together and offering them good foods in reasonable portions.
Leave the choosing of the food and the portion size up to them with the exception of refined carbs and sugars. Children and adults will overeat these 2 foods because of their addictive tendencies.
There aren't any 'bad" foods, though so if you offer these things on occasion or in moderation it's OK. Read the portion size on the label and allow 1 serving for each person. Serve it on their plates yourself if you find your family having a hard time sharing. If you do decide to have a dessert, one small serving is enough for anyone. Really.
Organic is always better especially when it comes to things higher up on the food chain like meats and fats.
More important than any food on the table, is the love you have for them, so relax. Enjoying meals together can be easier than you think!
Nanci J. Bradley (60) is a child and family educator, author, energy facilitator, family aerobics instructor and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BA in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI.