5 Common nutrition mistakes families make

By Rosie Schwartz, RD on November 01, 2012
As a consulting dietitian with a nutrition counselling practice, I’m often asked for help with assorted nutritional challenges. Sometimes finding solutions can be difficult, but most often they’re not as tough as many parents think. Here are a few common mistakes I come across over and over again.

Mistake #1: Never allowing treats into your home

Solution: As parents, we tend to believe we can have total control over what our kids eat, but we all learn eventually that the outside world can indeed influence their food choices – and not always in the best way. If the offerings in their friends’ kitchens resemble the chip aisle at the supermarket, without your supervision, your child may give new meaning to the expression, ‘like a kid in a candy shop’. That’s not to say that you should not be a gatekeeper and put limits on treats. Teaching moderation, though, is an invaluable lesson. If guests arrive at your home bearing chocolates or desserts, having your youngsters partake in reasonable size servings and then saving the rest for another day helps to avoid binge behaviours. It also discourages them from sneaking treats behind your back.

Mistake #2: Trying to get kids who overeat to eat less

Solution: Don’t create a battleground where you try to limit the amounts your youngster is eating. Instead, focus on what the cause of the overeating might be. First look to breakfast and/or lunch to see if the meals are adequate in size or if they’re balanced. Skipped breakfasts, uneaten lunches or those filled mainly with carbs can lead to an insatiable appetite later in the day. Another solution is to add more foods with filling power and lower calorie counts. For example, if your child can polish off a plate of spaghetti and meatballs in a flash, start your meal with a large bowl of vegetable soup. Or instead of serving a piece of chicken and a side of rice and veggies, try a stir-fry packed with a greater volume of vegetables.

Mistake #3: Banishing foods that your kids dislike from the menu, instead of trying again

Solution: You can’t be blamed for trying to prepare meals that your family likes. Consider, though, that many nutrient-packed foods also have stronger or distinctive flavours. A comparison of white versus a nutty whole grain bread, or iceberg lettuce and a dark, leafy green such as arugula are perfect examples of foods with bland versus distinctive flavours. Research shows that it can take 20 tastes to turn a disliked food into one that is actually enjoyed. The tastes can be tiny – just a teaspoon each time – which is much less off-putting to a child as well. Learning how to be a healthy eater is a process. We don’t expect to teach values and morals overnight yet we often think that teaching kids how to love a variety of healthy eats happens overnight.(By the way, this method of learning to like an assortment of foods also works with picky adults, too.)

Mistake #4: Making your home a junk food heaven

Solution: If you stock your home with a wide assortment of items with little nutritional value, when your kids open the pantry or fridge door, this is what they will see. And you can be sure that this is what they will want to eat. Instead keep nutritious eats handy, making them the first foods that youngsters will spot when they’re looking for something to munch on. Keep a fruit bowl on the counter or cut up veggies in the fridge to make it easy for them to grab something healthy. If you want to make these foods more enticing, you can keep wholesome dips handy as well.

Mistake #5: Preaching to your kids about healthy eating, but not doing it yourself

Solution: When parents complain about how their kids eat, I often ask – to their surprise – about their own eating style. Being an example to your children can help to change their ways. The days when you could expect your youngsters to eat their vegetables when one parent turns up his or her nose at the thought of eating it are long gone. Kids take their cues from their parents. If your eating habits are in need of a revamp, there’s nothing wrong with telling your kids. Then make it a family effort.

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and is author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Join Rosie on Facebook at facebook. com/EnlightenedEater for her opinion on healthy eats.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2012.

By Rosie Schwartz, RD| November 01, 2012

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