Nutrition advice. It’s everywhere, coming at us from just about every direction; friends, family, the media. People just love to tell us how to feed our little ones. It’s hard sorting fact from fiction, but here are a few myths I will happily bust for you, as both a Registered Dietitian and a mom.
- Encourage your child to clean their plate. Believe it or not, children are generally quite adept at regulating their food intake. We sometimes feel it is our job as the parent to intervene during mealtime or push “just one more bite”. Kids are quick to sense our feeding agenda and even quicker to assert their will. By allowing them to decide how much to eat, we provide them with a critical opportunity to tap into their hunger cues and navigate their own appetites.
- Don’t give them spicy foods. Ok, so giving your child roaring hot jerk chicken is probably unwise. But do not, I repeat do not shy away from spicing up your child’s food right from their very first bite. Children who are exposed to more flavours as babies are more likely to accept a wide variety of flavours as adults. This is something I discuss in my Starting Solids & Baby-Led Weaning Workshop.
- Teach your child about nutrition and healthy eating at every meal. It may seem counterintuitive, but studies have found that kids have more negative views about (and are less likely to eat) foods labelled “healthy” and “good for you”. In one large study, preschoolers believed a food could either be yummy or healthy, but not both. Instead of saying “drink your milk, it’s good for your bones”, there’s really no need to comment at all. According to dietitian and child-feeding guru Ellyn Satter, it’s important to allow children to interpret and explore foods on their own without placing value on or labelling foods.
- If your child rejects a food, he must not like it. Ok so he may not choose to eat it at that particular time, but children often require many exposures to a food before they will accept it. Case in point: My formerly fish-despising toddler who grabbed a piece of salmon off my plate one day, devoured it and hasn’t looked back. Try offering rejected foods again (with no pressure or coercion) — you may be surprised.
- Some kids are just grazers. Sure, some will snack throughout the day if given the opportunity, but children need structured meal and snack times. Dietitian Ellyn Satter defines the parents’ job in the feeding relationship: deciding “when” and “where” meals take place. This gives children the much-needed predictability and routine with their eating.
So the next time you’re offered feeding advice (let’s face it, usually unsolicited), smile, nod, (down your coffee), and remember that the goal isn’t perfection or Pinterest-perfect meals. It’s making mealtime enjoyable and providing (mostly) nutritious foods. And yes, sometimes, that means dinner is waffles with a side of tater tots.