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Tuesday, April 28th, 2015
What you say to your kids at the dinner table is just as important as what you serve. The messages you give your children about mealtime and food can have a powerful effect–so make sure you’re sending the right ones. Here are five statements to avoid:
1. “You can have dessert if you eat your asparagus.” No food–including dessert–should be held up as a reward (or withheld as a punishment). Not only does it elevate dessert to super-special status, but it sends the message that you have to eat the “yucky” stuff to get to the “yummy” stuff. If you’re serving dessert, all family members should be given the choice to have it, regardless of how much they ate at their meal. If your child only wants to eat dessert and no actual dinner food, try limiting dessert to only occasionally. You can also try serving dessert WITH dinner–sounds crazy but it works for some kids. Read more about that strategy here.
2. “You’re so picky.” I use the term “picky eaters” in my writing because it’s a catch-all name that parents understand. But I’ve never called my kids “picky”, even though they definitely have habits that could put them in that category. Placing any kind of label onto your child isn’t helpful. Call your child “picky” and this is what they might internalize: “I’m a kid who doesn’t like a lot of foods and is afraid to try new things.”
3. “Eat five more bites of chicken and three more bites of peas.” I understand the intention behind this one: You don’t think your child has eaten enough of the “good” stuff or he’s eaten mostly potatoes and bread and his meal doesn’t feel balanced to you. But it doesn’t help your child to dictate how much they have to eat (would you like it if someone did that to you?). I’m actually a recovering bite-enforcer myself. I stopped several years ago, when my son turned to me at dinner one night and said ‘How many more bites do I have to take?’. In that moment, I realized how unproductive it was. How could my son ever learn how to eat when he was hungry and stop when he was full if I was giving him a bite quota?
4. “You wouldn’t like it.” Even if you’re 99 percent sure your child won’t like something, never discourage her from trying. It’s okay to give a heads-up that something is spicy. Otherwise, be open and encouraging. I learned this lesson on a recent road-trip. My son wanted to order onion rings, and I was convinced he wouldn’t like them (since he doesn’t like onions in anything else). Read what happened next here.
5. “You have to try it.” The “one-bite rule” works great for some kids (like my older son) and encourages them to try things they otherwise may not have. But for other kids (like my younger son), it can create a battle at the dinner table. Read about alternatives to the “one-bite rule” in my post Why I Don’t Make My Kids Take ‘Just One Bite‘.
Is there anything else you’d add to this list?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
Image: Girl eating via Shutterstock
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Monday, May 19th, 2014
Have you ever given much thought to which style of serving meals might be best for your kids when it comes to their nutrition and overall health? Growing up, I remember being served food pre-plated. I was always allowed to take more if I was still hungry—and I usually did! I have continued with this tradition with my own sons who are now ages 15 and 12.
At breakfast and dinner, I pre-plate my kids’ food with an amount I think each of them will eat based on their age and stage. Sometimes they eat everything on their plates, and sometimes they leave food over. Either way, if they finish their meal and want more of something—whether that’s more milk at breakfast or some dessert after dinner—they’re allowed to help themselves.
Although I’ll serve food family-style during holidays and when we entertain friends or family, I find a pre-plated style of feeding typically works best for my family, especially on nights when we can’t eat dinner together because of conflicting after-school schedules. Sometimes simply heating up a fresh meal that’s been pre-plated and refrigerated can streamline the process of getting my kids fed. Fortunately, both of my sons eat pretty well, seldom overeat and are at healthy body weights.
Although pre-plating works for my family, many experts suggest a family-style approach to eating may be a better and more empowering way to feed growing children and prevent obesity—especially the 12 million U.S. preschool children in child care programs. In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Illinois researchers surveyed 118 child-care providers who work at Head Start, Adult Care Food Program [CACFP] and other programs about their feeding practices for 2- to 5-year old children. Researchers found that while most who worked at Head Start met the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ recommendation to serve foods and beverages family-style—where children select their own portions and serve themselves—most CACFP (66%) and non-CACFP (93%) providers did not.
In the study, the researchers note that serving meals family-style gives children control over the type and amount of food on their plates and helps them self-regulate their energy intakes they learn to put the right amount of food on their plate based on their internal hunger and satiety signals. They also suggest that a family-style approach to feeding increases the ability of teachers to model healthy eating compared with pre-plated service. And because there’s evidence that eating behaviors are already established by school age, the researchers underscore how important it is for adults to help children establish healthy habits during their preschool years.
According to Linda C. Whitehead, Ph.D., Vice President of Education and Development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, “Family-style dining allows teachers and children to enjoy a meal together in a calm, respectful atmosphere. The table is typically set with child-size plates, cups, and serving bowls. Children are encouraged to not only help set the table, but to serve themselves, pass dishes to their friends and clean up afterwards.” When asked about the benefits of family-style dining, Whitehead says, “The relaxed atmosphere encourages rich conversation and social interactions. Children learn appropriate behaviors, such as turn taking and using words, such as “please” and “thank you.” It also boosts self-confidence and independence, teaches children mathematical concepts, such as less, more, half, and full and builds fine motor skills.”
In their book, Fearless Feeding, Maryann Jacobsen and Jill Castle—both registered dietitians—say that family-style feeding is an authoritative and effective way to help children eat better. As stated in their book, “Family-style meals not only shift the control to your child, but also capitalize on skill development and success.”
To help serve kids family-style, the authors recommend preparing foods in appropriate serving sizes and placing them on platters or in bowls; cutting foods like chicken breasts into 3-ounce portions; offering small potatoes; using 8-ounce glasses for milk; and using half-cup serving spoons to dish out grains, vegetables and fruits. The authors also discourage parents from using the meal table to discuss topics related to nutrition, eating, and food. They say, “Frankly, it can feel like too much pressure, especially if your child is picky or overweight.” They recommend keeping conversation topics light, fun, and entertaining so that the meal table can be a place your children enjoy. Sounds great to me!
If there’s any real downside to making family meals family-style, it might be the inevitable mess kids make when serving themselves. We all know how that goes! Whitehead suggests keeping the atmosphere positive and to see spills and messes as learning opportunities rather than frustrations. “Keeping paper towels close at hand and allowing children to help clean up never hurts,” she says.
Do you feed your kids family-style? If not, will you give it a try?
Make dinnertime easier with these one-pot supper ideas!
Image of family enjoying meal at home via shutterstock.
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Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Obesity
Friday, June 14th, 2013
If you’re like most harried parents, getting dinner on the table—and your family to the table—is no small feat. But having regular family meals has so many benefits for kids and parents alike.
Studies suggest that regular family meals helps kids of all ages maintain a healthy body weight, consume higher quality diets and have better eating habits. Older children who eat with their families may also be less likely to use alcohol or tobacco or abuse drugs. Teen girls are also less inclined to binge, purge, diet or otherwise engage in disordered eating behaviors. A recent study even suggests that children who have family meals during which they talk more as a family in a more pleasant atmosphere have less depressive symptoms.
Parents can also reap some benefits from family meals beyond feeling more in touch and connected with their children. One study found that parents who had more family meals ate more fruits and vegetables–something many of us lack in our diets. The study also found that more family meals were associated with less fast food intake among fathers, and less dieting or binge eating among mothers.
To help families reclaim dinnertime, Aviva Goldfarb, author of The Six O’Clock Scramble, created the Family Dinner Challenge—even Jamie Oliver has become a fan! Here are some highlights from our recent conversation.
EZ: What drove you to start the Family Dinner Challenge?
AG: Ten years ago I launched The Six O’Clock Scramble to help families get healthier, homemade dinners on the table with a lot less stress and expense. Although the idea has caught on with tens of thousands of people, families still tell me that they don’t have time to make dinner a priority or don’t know where to start. In honor of The Six O’Clock Scramble’s 10th anniversary, I launched the Family Dinner Challenge.
The goal of the challenge is to have 10,000 families commit to eating dinner together at least three times a week for four weeks between now and September. Each family that takes the challenge will receive all the tools needed to be successful in the challenge—weekly menus, recipes and grocery lists, a chart to keep track of their dinners eaten together, conversation starters, and more. We’re also offering incredible prizes from Vitamix, Cuisinart, Zojirushi Rice Cooker and Dole for those who complete the challenge.
EZ: What do you tell parents who think their families are too busy to eat together?
AG: I understand that work and extracurricular activities make it a challenge for families to eat together. But because of the endless nutritional and emotional benefits family meals provide, I encourage families to find a way to tweak their schedules and have dinner a bit later or earlier on some nights. Families can also benefit by making it a point to sit down together for a bowl of fruit when everyone is home. For families who find it impossible to have meals together during the week, I encourage making Sunday dinners a special occasion. At these meals, families can agree to disconnect from technology, turn off the TV and just make quality time to connect with each other over a nourishing meal. If they can manage more than one night together, even better—it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Also, some families find it much easier to sit down together for breakfast rather than dinner—that can also have so many health and other benefits for families.
Does the whole family have to eat together to be successful in The Family Dinner Challenge?
Families can define the “family dinner” as any dinner that includes at least one parent or caregiver sitting down for a meal with at least one child. Having everyone together every night is not always possible for many families, so it’s perfectly fine to redefine the family dinner to suit your family’s needs. The simple act of sitting down together, making eye contact with one another, and having conversation or playing silly games provides huge benefits for kids and their parents.
For more information on The Family Food Challenge and to learn more Aviva, go to the Six O’Clock Scramble web site here.
What’s your biggest obstacle when it comes to eating as a family?
Image of family smiling at the dinner table via Shutterstock.
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