Progress > Perfection - Intuitive Eating For Kids
What does it mean for a child to be eating “well”?
The answer can feel complicated & even fuzzy at times.
While the responsibility falls on parents to ensure the health & well being of our children, part of this role involves encouraging the development of our kids’ intuition so they can establish a deeper understanding of how to meet their own growing needs.
I believe a healthy diet for a child is flexible, adventurous, messy and anything but perfect.
Eating well is about building the confidence to try new foods, having fun exploring, leaning into preferences and respecting dislikes.
This brings me to the topic of today’s post – an intro to intuitive eating for kids and how to overcome a common hurdle on the road to success: pressure & perfectionism.
This, for me, is the key to reducing stress around mealtime.
So let’s revisit this aspect of intuitive eating, but this time with the aim of supporting your kids (rather than yourself, as I discussed in my last piece!)
Step 1 - Honouring Hunger Cues
For kids, honouring hunger cues is first about understanding what they are.
Having a solid routine is a great place to start, and it allows kids to feel comfortable & relaxed enough to recognize their hunger cues.
Converse with your kids daily about how they feel before/during/after meals so they learn to articulate their needs.
Sharing your own feelings about hunger & satiation (be descriptive!) can also help your kids understand theirs.
Step 2 – Approaching Foods They Don’t Yet Like
This one has perhaps been my biggest battle with my toddlers.
Instead of trying to convince my kids to eat vegetables, I just routinely include them on their plate so they have lots of exposure.
Sometimes they poke their veggies, or smell them, or just push them around their plate, but I now appreciate that this is part of the process when it comes to introducing new/different foods (and it helps us all to feel more relaxed).
The other piece is that my kids watch closely as I enjoy my food and their curiosity is piqued when they see something new & different and that’s a positive first step!
Step 3 – Being a Bit Rebellious
No need to hand over the reins, but try to understand how certain foods affect your kids.
My youngest just got over a dairy allergy but it doesn’t yet agree with his stomach so it’s something I keep a close eye on at home (and he’s still dairy-free at preschool!)
He tells me he doesn’t like pizza, which may be a little hard to believe since he’s only 2-yeard-old, but I now know it’s because of the cheese and I can fully respect this stance.
The way your kids eat doesn’t require a label, nor does it require explanation to outsiders – do what works for your family.
Step 4 - Looking at Balance as a Bonus, NOT a Necessity
This is where I feel lots of pressure as a parent, especially now that I’m about to be a nutritionist!
This is what has helped me most: working on exposing my kids to a variety of foods over time, including fruits & veggies, but trying NOT to stress if some meals don’t include any of these things.
I now believe that my kids having a burger for dinner with nothing but ketchup doesn’t make me (or you!) any less of a parent.
When it comes to healthy eating, the goal should be balance overall and not balance all the time.
Step 5 - Finding Healthy Outlets for Stress Management
My 3-year-old turns to snacking when he’s bored, but I know (and he knows) it’s not what his body wants.
Too much screen time paired with mindless snacking can impair anyone’s ability to meet their body’s nutritional needs.
Interestingly, my little one is most commonly “bored” when he’s watching a bit of TV during his brother’s naptime – requests for snacks are my cue to think up a better activity for quiet time.
I find that my kids need to be routinely active & stimulated in order to effectively tap into their intuition around mealtime.
Intuitive Eating – Next Steps:
Intuitive eating is a journey that can be embarked upon by each member of a family at any time.
It’s a fabulous notion to consider if you’re stressed about nourishment for yourself or your kids, especially if you feel any pressure.
Letting go of perfection helped me to refocus my intentions (see my first piece) and to live a healthy & happier life with my kids – I hope this will inspire you to do the same.
Lots more to come on this topic. Thanks for reading!
Ciara Morin, R.H.N.