Feeding children is an art based in science. Doing it well can be a challenge.
It is something most of us, as parents, are not trained to do. No formal classes.
No routine guidance. No training. And, very little support along the way. Feeding our kids is something we plunge into with barely any time to come up for air and ask, “Are we doing this right?”
I believe we, collectively as a nation, have under-served parents — and ultimately children — by leaving them to figure out nutrition and feeding kids largely on their own.
[I discuss this at length and invite you to listen to my TEDx talk entitled The Nutrition Prescription for Healthier Kids below]
It’s ironic to me that parents blame themselves for their children’s eating habits, issues with nutrition, and health. They forget they weren’t trained to nourish and feed their kids!
Yet, many parents have the sense they are supposed to know how to feed their kids. That it’s something they are naturally hard-wired to do.
The truth is, feeding doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, it can be quite a struggle for parents. (Even for professionals, too.)Feeding kids is an art. Doing it well can be a challenge. #feedingkids #fearlessfeeding #thenourishedchild Click To Tweet
The Blueprint for Feeding Children is Set Early
One thing I’ve seen in myself and in other parents is the basis for feeding practices and nutrition knowledge tends to come from how we were fed ourselves as little ones and the eating patterns with which we grew up.
For example, if we were made to sit at the table until we “cleaned” our plate, then our tendency may be to do the same to our own children. Or, at least incorporate some sort of mandate or reward to get our kids to eat something before they are excused.
Alternatively, if we were forced to eat, the memory may be so negative that we vowed we would never do that to our own kids. As a result, we cater to them, allowing them to eat whatever their food preferences dictate. And yet, we still feel like a failure, intuitively knowing this is not the way to feed well.
We Are Feeders, Whether We Like It Or Not
Whether we like it our not, we are “feeders” from the moment our children are born. In deciding to breast-feed or bottle feed, we make our very first feeding decision.
We determine the routine for our children by deciding to feed on demand or on a schedule. We make decisions about how much they will eat by offering 3 ounces or 4 ounces.
The daily decisions show up at every corner and they don’t end there.
[If you’re just starting out with your baby, my book The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids will help!]
Around every milestone, we are faced with another cornerstone decision:
Should I make homemade baby food?
Should I use organic foods?
Is it okay to serve fast food, go out for dinner, or order take out?
These choices and decisions can consume our thoughts, make us race to the web to get the latest opinion, and confer with friends to discuss our options.
We know in our hearts that these are important choices, and we want to do the very best for our children.
As the world turns, the decisions are made, day after day, sometimes with great consideration, and sometimes on a whim.
Three Principles to Feeding Children Well
There is both an art and science to nourishing kids well.
The science tells us what to feed kids and why. It tells us how much (roughly) our kids need, what nutrients our kids need from food to grow well and be healthy, and how to keep our kids from poor health.
The science tells us best practices and interactions for feeding so our kids grow up with a healthy relationship to food.
It tells us how to respond to our children’s appetite cues and food preferences. And science tells us how to help our kids expand their diets, avoid the perils of modern-day food marketing and more.
In a nutshell, to feed kids well, you need to focus on three principles:
- Food and Nutrients
- Feeding Practices and Interactions
- Child Development
These three areas make up what I call a “whole child approach” to nourishing children.
Understanding food and nutrients allows you to meet your child’s nutritional requirements by offering balanced meals and snacks, monitoring food intake so you know where the gaps lie, and taking this information to inform any adjustments in your meal planning as necessary.
Having insight on feeding practices and interactions helps you adopt positive approaches that nurture your child’s relationship with food, eating and himself.
It also helps you avoid the common feeding traps that disrupt trust between you and your child, interfere with your child’s eating regulation, and negatively influence overall health.
Last, knowing what to expect with your child’s developmental progression gives you a window into what might happen at different ages and stages, such as picky eating or trying to diet, which can keep you ahead of the game and less worried about your child.There is both an art and science to nourishing kids well. #thenourishedchild Click To Tweet
There’s an Art to Feeding Kids, Too
But there’s an art to nourishing kids well, too. And, I believe the art comes from taking the science we know and love and applying it to your real life situation.
For instance, the science tells us about the best foods to have on your table. The art is having your kitchen stocked with healthy food, preparing a meal that satisfies all palates, and introducing a variety of foods to your child.
The science tells us dieting is dangerous, as another example. The art of nourishing your child is in raising a healthy, well-balanced kid in a confusing, diet-obsessed world.
Yes, I say feeding kids is both a science and an art.
Those day to day decisions? They count. Each and every one of them.
I encourage you to embrace both the science and the art of feeding kids. Pay attention to those food and feeding decisions, for they are important.
Know where your child sits on the developmental spectrum. Check your feeding attitudes and practices. Know what food your child needs and how to strike a balance that is nourishing and pleasing.
If you need more information–seek to be educated. My training, The Nourished Child Project, teaches you the information and skills that you most likely failed to receive as a new parent. It’s perfect for families with children aged 4 through 14 years.
Remember, just as an artist practices her craft, day in and day out, so must you. If you learn, practice and tweak your knowledge and skills in nutrition and feeding, you will become a great feeder!
If you don’t have my book, Fearless Feeding, it’s a must have on your shelf!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: July 25, 2018
Updated on: October 18, 2019