Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Forcing Food into Kids

How do you think a doctor concerned about health will come down on this issue? You might be surprised. First, the article from the Washington Post:

For Emily M. DeSantis, the battle lines were drawn over meatloaf and stuffed green peppers. "My mom would not let me leave the table until I had tried a bit of whatever gross thing she was making," DeSantis noted in a recent e-mail. "So I fell asleep at bedtime in my chair more than a few times."

As an adult, DeSantis tries to even the score: When she dines out with her mother, she chooses a sushi restaurant. "My mother despises it and I love it," DeSantis notes. "I feel I deserve revenge for all that meatloaf."

Epic tales of food struggles between parents who want their kids to eat healthfully and children who want to exert their independence are familiar to Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, who studies adolescent eating at the University of Minnesota. "I hear many, many stories like these," she says.

Here is my advice: don't make food a struggle and keep healthy food available. How to do this? If a child loathes eggs (like I did), don't force them. There are other forms of protein available, choose them. Arbitrary rules that make chicken for lunch or steak only for dinner or cereal only for breakfast, can make getting good nutrition into a kid difficult.

Another piece of advice: I keep a full bowls of fruit around the house. Anyone, my children, a guest, whoever, can grab what they want. This inhibits the junk food pilfering. We also keep junk food in the house. I know, horrors! But have you seen the children who are deprived of this sort of thing when they go to someone else's home? They're like starved scavengers.

In fact, some family members (who shall not be named) would go to the local store, buy junk food and sneak it into the house. This makes for fat, guilty kids. The food is associated with shame. Parents, do you really want to make this connection for your children?

I also know parents who purposefully keep the kitchen bare--as if that will ensure skinny kids. No, that will ensure hungry kids who will likely overeat in the presence of food.

I also know parents who limit portions--as if that will ensure skinny kids. Children, who don't have health or psychological problems, eat when they're hungry. So some weeks a toddler can eat like a lumberjack and then seem to survive on crumbs the following weeks. It's amazing that they survive, but they do survive.

So, ease up on the food Nazi bit and make healthy, yummy (carob is NOT yummy, neither is squash) food around. Save the wars for just saying "no" to drugs and cigarettes. Now, winning that war is non-negotiable. Hold your parental fire for those battles.


kman said...

Excellent post!

Why be a food sadist when we can get any type of food year round?

I have so many friends who don't feed their kids enough... although normally it's a matter of not often enough. We try to drop hints and even come right out and tell them that kids act up when they get hungry even if they don't know they are hungry yet.

Instead of taking snacks for the kids they seem to prefer giving them timeouts when they innevitably act out. So of course we take extra snacks when we are around them. Yeah I know consider me an enabler.

I had never considered that they might not feed their kids snacks because thinness is next to godliness...

Dr. Melissa said...


Interesting point. Yes, there are two main reason kids act up: hunger and fatigue. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Keep 'em fed.

It's true for adults, too. The army knows this. Business seminars would be wise to incorporate this too. Feed people!

Balanced blood sugar = happiness.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I have two little ones that I keep fed. One of my children naturally just likes healthy good food and lots of it. My other one loves chunck food. Although we hardly buy chips and such, she seems to prefer and crave that sort of stuff much more then other sorts of food. Dinner time is a constant nag...please eat your food, etc... I tire of it and I'm sure she does too.
I do keep fruit in a bowl as you do but my little girl much rather munches on prezles or crackers. She is skinny but not because I don't try to feed her. I worry sometimes that she does not get enough nutrions in her because she is so picky.