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Childhood Nutrition Wisdom, from Yours Truly

We are all nutrition experts in some way or other. After all, we are the experts of our own children. And we feed them everyday. So, that at least makes us masters of our own domain.

Full of nutrition wisdom and insight, right?

Today, it seems the scrutiny over what kids eat, what parents feed their kids, and the potential {positive or negative} impact on kids’ health intensifies by the minute. No wonder it’s easy to feel a little crazy about food and nutrition.

As a registered dietitian and feeding expert, there are a few pieces of wisdom I’d like to impart, things I’ve learned as a dietitian, and things I’ve learned as a mom. Boy, would I have loved to know some of these pearls long ago! Alas, sometimes wisdom only comes with time.

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I hope some of the lessons I have learned over the years will help you keep perspective on the wonderful job of feeding your child:

Each stage presents unique changes

In infancy, introducing babies to a host of different foods is the goal. During toddlerhood, the challenge is how to best deal with a picky eater or contend with an unexpected medical challenge such as a food allergy, a gastrointestinal illness, or even a chronic medical condition.

The school-age years are wrought with challenges: a newfound love of junk food and sweets. unwanted weight gain, ongoing picky eating or simply not making the healthy choice often enough.

The teen years showcase more independence, and while parents love this, they often find they hate it too. I know I have felt this way!

The bottom line is that each stage of childhood offers a unique nutrition challenge, so don’t get too comfortable with feeding, or too worried either. Change is bound to happen. As they say, “This too shall pass.”

Lead, and your children will follow

I’ve seen too many parents not know how to lead in the realm of nutrition. Or, they lead with good intentions but ultimately don’t have the knowledge they need, or they may carry baggage from their own food experiences, such as a history of being overweight or struggling with an eating disorder.

Every parent comes from a different place, and I appreciate that. The key is to understand where you’re coming from, so you can work to address how this shows up in your parenting and feeding.

Just like the Picky Eater Project showcased, when parents had the knowledge they needed, they fed their kids better, and their kids followed their lead. Just remember, your kids will follow your nutrition lead, for better or worse.

Find a routine and stick to it

Many families I have worked with don’t have a routine with nutrition. They keep trying different things—from recipes and menu planning to turning their usual food parenting on its head.

Kids do well with structure– and so do parents! Try to get a system in place, such as closing the kitchen after meals or keeping the timing of meals and snacks relatively steady. It’s hard on everyone when things keep changing.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Yes, the child who refuses the beautiful dinner you just made is certainly frustrating. Oh well. At least you made dinner. Pat yourself on the back for that.

What about the child who is sneaking candy when you’re not looking? Yeah, that’s a problem, potentially, but it can be remedied by re-evaluating your meal and snack plans, the boundaries that are set around the kitchen and food, and having a heart-to-heart talk with your child.

The point is, don’t get too worked up about the unhealthy choices, how much {or how little} your child eats, or whether you are cooking homemade meals every night.

Put your effort into the big picture: the long-term food relationship you are cultivating, your child’s sense of self and body image, and creating natural opportunities to learn about and enjoy food.

Don’t brush off real nutrition problems

On the other hand, don’t ignore real nutrition issues: a teen who is dangerously underweight; a child who is struggling with overeating; or a child who has been a picky eater for a long time.

If your child’s eating is causing problems in other realms of life, a deeper look is warranted. I believe you instinctively know when you need more help.

Almost every family I have ever worked with knew for a while there was an issue that needed to be worked out. The truth is, everyone needs a little bit of help now and then on the journey of feeding kids.

It’s a marathon, not a race

Feeding and nourishing kids is a daily undertaking. One indiscretion won’t ruin the game plan. Keep your eyes on the prize and cut yourself some slack.

Feeding perfectly is a lofty ideal, not a reality {it goes in the same boat with perfect nutrition}. Relax. Enjoy the journey {and your child}.

Understand there will be ups and downs. Don’t get too caught up in it, lest you turn into a health nut who is overbearing about food, restrictive, fearful, and completely no fun!

What have you learned on the journey of feeding your kids?

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  1. So many pearls of wisdom here. I’m still in the thick of it with the girls (they’ll be 4 next week!), but Don’t sweat the small stuff is so important and I have to remind myself about that daily! Thanks for all your great advice as always!

  2. Great article, Jill. As a mom of two boys, I can say that not sweating the small stuff saves me often! Parents can only do what they can do and ruminating over things outside their control usually just leads to overwhelm and resentment. Thanks for sharing!