Healthy Kids: How to Raise Confident and Competent Eaters
When you think about what it means to raise a healthy kid, what are some things that come to mind?
Do any of these things sound familiar?
A child who regularly eats a certain number of fruits and vegetables
A child who prefers “healthier” foods over other foods
A child who is in an average body size (not large or small)
A child who doesn’t eat a lot of sweets or “junk” food
A child who eats an adequate amount of food (not too much or too little)
Having a child that is a “good eater”
What if I told you that those are in fact NOT measures of success when it comes to feeding and raising healthy kids?
What if we took a step back to fully see the big picture when it comes to raising our kiddos?
Because from a bird’s eye view, I’ll tell you what will matter most in the long run.
The basis of raising a healthy child is not subject to their willingness to comply with our own agendas or societal goals in feeding them.
What are Better Outcomes to Focus on For Raising Healthy Kids?
Our long-term goals should include bringing up a child who is both confident and competent when it comes to food and eating.
What might this look like?
In regards to food and eating, healthy kids might exhibit the following behaviors and attitudes:
They enjoy eating many different foods and feel confident in trying new things
They rely on their own internal cues of hunger and fullness to know exactly how much to eat
They feel positive about eating
They are able to learn how to eat and like different foods
They can take part in a meal, even when their favorite foods are not available
They are able to politely decline foods they don’t want to eat
They are able to be around new foods without getting upset
They are able to trust themselves as the best experts of their bodies and eat what they need to grow at a rate that is right for them
Ultimately, raising healthy kids means we are bringing up children who are capable, competent and confident in themselves. A large part of this stems from our feeding interactions and their eating experiences.
Diet Culture and Societal Pressures Can Cause Doubt
Diet culture has hijacked what it means to raise a healthy eater, making us believe as parents that it's all about getting them to eat certain things or quantities or to fit an ideal standard when it comes to their body sizes.
But these are not measures of success, for us as parents or our kids.
You are not failing as a parent if your child is still learning to like vegetables or any other food for that matter or if they're naturally in a smaller or bigger body.
Our kids are born to be natural, intuitive eaters. Let's help them stay as the best experts of their bodies and not try to micromanage what they need.
They already know what they need to eat to grow at a rate that is right for them.
Keeping the Big Picture in Mind When Feeding Our Kids
Sometimes when feeding our kids, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees and forget the big picture goals.
Yes, nutritious foods are important to their health, as is having structure around meals and snacks.
But when these goals in themselves become the primary motive for how we feed our kids, we can too easily swerve out of our lanes and unintentionally make things much more difficult - for ourselves and our kids.
When we make our kids’ health about the minutiae, like eating a certain number of bites of their vegetables, this can potentially rob them of building positive experiences around food and confidence in eating.
Micromanaging what and how much our kids eat will not help them grow into confident and competent eaters who love food and respect their bodies.
These are the things that will help them grow into a healthier person overall.
Here are some of the most powerful things we can do as parents to help raise confident kids and competent eaters:
Focus on Doing Our Part with Feeding:
Raising a confident eater does not mean trying to get your kid to take a certain number of bites of food, restricting sweets, or eating a vegetable at every meal.
So what can we focus on doing instead?
What’s more important to help your child be successful with eating is to have positive experiences at mealtimes.
This happens when you focus on doing your job with feeding, which involves deciding what you’re going to serve your kids and when you will feed them.
If you make it your business to do your child’s part with eating, this will deter him/her from feeling confident around food.
Trusting our Child’s Innate Capability to Eat:
Remember that your child is born with an innate ability to eat.
Kids are fully capable of regulating their intake to support their growth and nutritional needs.
If you do your part with feeding, your child will eat what they need to grow at a rate that is right for them.
Your child will eat the variety of foods that are necessary to adequately meet their nutritional needs without any micromanaging.
Remember that your job is to focus on providing regular meals and snacks that offer variety without any added pressure.
This includes things like bribing, rewarding, enticing, tricking or coercing your child to eat.
Sometimes fear can make it difficult to fully trust your child. Identifying and releasing those fears can help you trust your child to do their part with eating.
This means allow them to decide whether or not they want to eat and how much they want to eat from what you have provided.
Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations and Agendas:
If you’re feeding your child with an agenda that hinges on them achieving certain goals, this can dampen their confidence and make mealtimes a struggle.
In order to fully trust your child and to create the nurturing environment that supports their eating competence, you need to let go of your own agenda.
This might mean letting go of expectations surrounding their appetite, how much they eat or don’t eat, the foods they gravitate toward at mealtimes, their body sizes, and more.
Many times, these hidden agendas stem from a desire for our child to be healthy.
But keep in mind that their health encompasses so much more than just food itself.
Their experiences around food will influence how they feel about eating and their bodies.
Letting go of any expectations, whether externally (from society, social media, etc) or from yourself, can make it easier on all of you.
Create Good Experiences Around Food and Eating:
Ultimately, if you are following the above steps, meal time experiences will be positive for your kids and your entire family.
When you’re focusing on your part with feeding and allowing your child to do their part with eating, mealtimes will feel less stressful.
When you’re trusting that your child will eat what they need from the foods you’ve provided, they will come to mealtimes feeling confident and growing in their competence over time.
Making mealtimes safe and enjoyable will help them build positive associations around food and eating.
This will help provide them with nurturing times to explore and learn about food and their bodies.
Build Trust and Confidence in Yourself:
Your child will feel about eating the way you feel about feeding.
If you’re finding it difficult to trust your child, let go of your own agenda, or feel confident in feeding your kids, please give yourself grace through this process.
Often times, the journey of feeding our own kids can bring many of our own unspoken issues around food and our body to the surface.
If this is the case for you, recognize this as an opportunity for growth and learning on your part.
Connect with the support you need to help you address any unresolved issues you may have with feeding yourself and trusting your body.
The work you put into transforming your own relationship with food and your body will serve as a ripple effect for your kids, creating an unshakeable foundation from which they will grow in their own confidence.
Redefining What it Means to Raise a Healthy Kid
If we can stay in our lane and focus on these aspects, we can create a safe and nurturing environment from which our children can grow into their healthiest selves.
The foundation of raising a healthy child hinges on TRUST.
Trust in yourself as the best parent for your child.
Trust in your child to eat the right foods and amounts they need to grow into the body they were meant to have without any outside interference.
Trust in the power of a positive feeding relationship to help your child grow into a confident person who respects their body and enjoys food.