A little over a week ago, I came across the local Dietitian’s bi-weekly column in one of our town’s free newspapers (you know the ones that come wrapped around all the fliers of those stores hoping to grab your money before you realise you even have it). As a professional, she is employed by our local health unit to supply services to members of the community on dietary issues. I always read her column when I see it, and this week it was about supplements for children and how children don’t need them.
Now before I begin, let me say that I have great respect for the profession and having used her support services when dealing with a child or two who has come through my daycare, I can tell you I like her no-nonsense approach to diet and eating (however). She presented as part of a course I took, and the first thing she said was “When a parent tells you their child will “only eat” Kraft dinner and hot dogs, you know you’re in trouble, not just with the child…” I am not a dietitian and have relied on more than one dietitian over the years for advice and suggestions.
My own feelings on supplements are that they can play a vital role in filling in the gaps in our diets, and those of our children. For some, supplements can mean the difference between merely surviving, and thriving. For others, when paired with a clean, healthy diet full of whole foods like fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, can take their game to the next level. And for many (both young and older), supplements can be a way to make the break from an unhealthy diet, and pave the way to clean eating.
My big complaint about her article was that all it did was preach at parents not to give their children supplements, and to follow the Canada food guide to assure their children are getting adequate nutrition. Nowhere does she suggest to parents how to get this nutrition into their children. Perhaps she means for parents to contact her to get suggestions or that she will continue on in future columns with suggestions, but nowhere does she elude to this. My experience (as a parent and a care provider) is that parents don’t want to be preached at, they want suggestions they can use right now!
So rather than fill up more space ranting about what she didn’t do…I have a few suggestions of my own…
1. No matter how little they are, make them part of the meal experience. (Okay well, maybe those not yet eating solid food or walking upright can be excused from this one…) Even the one year old in the family wants to be part of the crowd, even a crowd of two. There are simple things that little ones can do to support the table setting process: get a little basket for the cutlery and get them to carry it over, or carry the napkins etc).
2. And if your reason for not doing number 1 is because you don’t set the table to eat because you don’t eat at the table, then we will start there…Eat at the table together. We eat almost every night together at the kitchen table. And if only two or three of us are present at the “sitting down time” of supper, we sit down together.
3. Turn off the TV…even if it is in the other room (this happens in our house) and you cannot hear it, turn it off. It distracts from the activity at hand, eating the meal together. As an adult at the table, watching the TV over your children’s heads while they eat sends a message that it is more important than they are…As I tell my children frequently, “Those people ON the television are working actors, getting paid to make stuff for you to watch on TV, they are NOT watching TV.
4. Make meals with your family in mind…If your children prefer raw veggies to cooked, put out a small dish of raw veggies on the table while you are making dinner. When you serve the meal, put small amounts of everything on the plates…We have something called “no thank you helpings” at our house…One piece of broccoli, three pieces of cooked carrot, a tablespoon of bean salad…All examples of small helpings. Larger helpings can seem overwhelming for small children, much easier to give them two mouthfuls of roast beef, and then have them come back for more.
5. DON”T MAKE MORE THAN ONE MEAL. Feed everyone the same thing. And yes, the fussy eaters will appear to be “starving” but eventually they figure out that breakfast time is a long time from supper time, and they start eating what is on their plates. Folks have often commented that my children are such good eaters (well, they are, sometimes, and trust me we have struggled to get there). But we have always fed them what we were eating. As a toddler, my daughter called Kalamata olives “grapes”…”More grapes please Daddy!” My son loved avocado when he was little and now likes guacamole. Of course, this can backfire too: the first time we introduced them to Crab, we figured they wouldn’t eat it, since they love the little crabs at the beach and of course the big tank at the grocery store. Uh uh, loved it…Now, if we want to have crab, we have to get one per person.
6. DON”T GIVE UP! This is the biggest one. It will get worse before it gets better. But it will get better. They will eventually eat (almost) everything you put in front of them…Especially the boys…And once you get the boy eating everything in sight, his sister will decide she is a vegetarian, and turn up her nose at the meat on the table, but don’t fret about that one because the boy will eat her share, and with any luck, she will be sure and point out that she can eat fish and seafood, and that there should really be more crab on the table.
There will be more suggestions and I promise that they won’t sound nearly so bossy as these ones!