Forget the old adage less is more. When it comes to fruits and vegetables more is less. Eating more fruits and vegetables means more nutrients and fiber and less calories and excess weight gain. It also means numerous health benefits, particularly related to long-term disease.
Getting the recommended servings of fruits and veggies can be a challenge though, especially with picky eaters. The good news is there are a lot of quick and easy ways to turn your kids into lean, mean, fruit and veggie-eating machines!
Use common sense: When it comes to food choices, fruits and vegetables are a no-brainer. They are nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense, which allows you to eat more than almost any other food. Plus, you get the added benefit of fiber, a nutrient that promotes fullness and satisfaction after a meal, not to mention keeps you in the bathroom on a regular basis. One cup of fruits or two cups of veggies contain a similar amount of calories as a 100-calorie snack pack, minus the added fat and sugar!
Look at the “whole” picture: Experts recommend that children get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This can be accomplished by adding a serving of fruit to every meal, and a vegetable to at least two meals or snacks. Talk about convenience! Fruits and veggies are the original convenience foods: pre-packaged, pre-portioned, and portable. Check out the many forms of produce available in supermarkets today and remember, in season produce is the cheapest. Although you’ll get more fiber from whole produce, frozen, canned in natural juices, juiced, dried, and even freeze-dried fruits and vegetables are great options, too.
Taste the rainbow: Choosing a wide variety of color for your child’s diet is the best way to ensure that they get a wide variety of key nutrients. The key word is natural colors, not artificial dyes and food colorings. Fruits and vegetables are the ultimate and natural way to add color. Vary your colors each day and within each meal and see how many you can incorporate in your family’s diet.
Check Your Bad Attitude at the Door: Have a positive attitude about eating vegetables! Food should provide pleasure, not pain and eating should be enjoyable, not drudgery. If you approach eating fruits and vegetables with a positive attitude, your kids will follow suit. Focus on what you get to eat instead of what you think you can’t eat or are missing. A healthy outlook and attitude are just as important as healthy eating behaviors. Studies have shown that focusing on increasing fruits and vegetables is drastically more effective than focusing on eating foods with lower fat and sugar.
Focus on Patience: The name of the game is exposure when it comes to vegetables and fruit (and new foods, for that matter). It may take as many as 10-20 exposures to a new food before your child will find it acceptable. So if you are trying a new veggie, don’t despair. Ask them to try a bite, but don’t force them to eat it if they don’t want to. Just try again another day, or with another food.
Double Duty: Leading by example, or role modeling, is the most effective way to change your child’s behavior. If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, then you need to eat them too. Likewise, you are the decision-maker when it comes to purchasing food, or what I like to call the gatekeeper. If you want your child to eat more fruits and veggies, then make sure you have ample choices on hand.
Do you know you’ll feed your child approximately 28,000 times before he leaves the nest?
While feeding is one of the most time-consuming jobs of parenthood, it’s often thankless and plagued with insecurity. And a lot of work! The effort to feed a child involves planning meals and menus, procuring food, preparing and serving it, and cleaning it all up.
The surprising fact is this: Just because you get all the nutrition details and food figured out doesn’t guarantee you will raise a healthy eater.
One important determinant to your success with nutrition and feeding your family is your feeding style. Parent feeding styles, or the attitudes and actions you use in the process of feeding your child, closely mirror your parenting style. While one feeding style is generally used most of the time, all the feeding styles can overlap and mingle.
Feeding styles also mimic our own eating experiences as a child–they are deeply ingrained and our “go to” method for feeding our own children. There are four parenting styles and as an extension of this, feeding styles (be sure to read to the bottom!):
Authoritarian feeding style is also known as a “parent-centered” style. In the realm of feeding, this style is associated with “the clean plate club,” where rules about eating are emphasized, from trying foods to completing a meal. Dessert is contingent upon eating dinner. Parents plate the food for their children. Eating is directed by the parent, rather than self-directed by the child. A child may become resistant to trying new food, picky, or an over-eater. Weight problems, both underweight and overweight, are correlated with this feeding style.
Permissive feeding style is also known as “the say yes to anything parent,” and reflects a child-directed style. Even though the parent says “no” or a limitation may be the first response, “yes” ultimately reigns. The classic example of this is the mother who is attempting to manage the vocal child in the grocery store who wants candy at the checkout stand. He begs and begs, hearing, “no, no, no…well….okay, I guess so.” Children of permissive feeders may become overweight, as research shows that the limits on calorie-dense foods may be unlimited.
Neglectful feeding style often produces the unprepared parent: irregular shopping, empty cabinets and refrigerators, and no plan for meals. Food and eating may lack importance for the parent, and that may transcend to feeding their child. Children who experience this feeding style may feel insecure about food and eating, and unsure about when they will have their next meal, whether they will like it, and if it will be enough. These children may become overly focused on food and frequently question the details around mealtime.
Authoritative feeding style is the “love with limits” feeding style, promoting independent thinking and self-regulation within the child, but also setting boundaries around food and eating. The authoritative feeder determines the details around the meal (what will be served, when it will happen, and where it will be served), but allows the child to decide whether they will eat what is prepared, and how much they will eat. Trust and boundaries are the basis of this parent feeding style. Children who have authoritative parents in the home tend to be leaner, good at self-regulating their food consumption, and feel secure with food and eating. The most current research advocates this style of feeding as an effective childhood obesity prevention approach.
What’s your feeding style and how is it affecting your child’s eating and health?