Hi there, Sugarbugs! This month’s blog is about developing a Positive Feeding Style. As parents and caregivers, we have the opportunity to help our children develop healthy eating habits. How? Well, preschool age is a developmental period when our little ones acquire healthy eating skills. Eating behaviors and preferences established during this time are likely to persist throughout their lives. So that makes it super important! (1)(2)
To develop a healthy relationship with food, a diplomatic feeding style is most effective. Want to know what that means? Keep reading!
A diplomatic feeding style promotes a positive attitude and a healthy relationship towards food. This helps prevent obesity and other eating problems by supporting children in developing a sense of security with food. Children then make better choices that lead to a healthier diet. (3)
But wait, there’s more. This style also encourages independent thinking and self-regulated eating by setting limits. This way, children have some freedom but also know the guides under which they can operate. It’s kind of like the bumpers at the bowling alley. Who doesn’t love bumpers… they help us perform better!
So, what does the Diplomatic Feeding Style look like? Well, it’s based on the Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR) philosophy. (4) This philosophy has two stakeholders: the adults and the kids.
The adults are responsible for the details around mealtime which include:
- What food to serve…
- Where to serve it…
- When to serve it.
Take on the job of deciding what foods you will serve and make them healthy options. Where you will serve the food? The kitchen table is preferable. Sure, we would love to eat in our treehouse but what we are aiming for here is consistency. Same goes for mealtimes. When will you serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What about snack time? Basically, it’s not a free-for-all.
The kids are responsible for deciding:
- Whether they will eat the food…
- And how much they will eat.
Let your child decide whether he or she will eat what you have provided, and how much he or she will eat. Developing healthy eating habits is a skill much like riding a bike. Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? How many times did you fall down? Skills take practice, practice, practice and a whole lot of patience. Eating well is no different.
Let’s get back to the adults. Here’s what we can do:
- Select and cook the food.
- Offer regular meals and snacks.
- Create a pleasant mealtime experience.
- Role model how to behave at family mealtime.
- Role model tasting new foods.
- Be thoughtful of your child’s lack of food experience.
- Don’t cater to likes and dislikes.
- Don’t let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
So, what’s a good way to serve meals? Family-style. Serving meals family-style simply means placing food items on platters or in bowls and passing them around the table allowing each person to refuse the food or take an amount that is right for them. Plating foods for your children shifts the control away from them which is not a good thing. This may disrupt your child’s ability to learn self-regulation, an essential skill for maintaining a healthy weight.
Providing choices helps develop these skills. Ask them about snack time. What would you like to go with your string cheese? Apples? Crackers? Giving choices, but not too many choices, allows your child to make good decisions about food and feel in control of their body and their eating.
It is important to trust your child with his or her ability to recognize hunger and fullness signals and allow them to eat the amount of food to satisfy those signals. In short, the amount of food they eat should reflect their appetite. Trust is key. Trust is also a two-way street. You want your child to trust you and so you must return that trust. You also want your child to trust food. It’s natural for children to sometimes overeat and under-eat and this is part of figuring out what works for their body. The additional benefit of this trust is that your child will naturally learn to eat what you eat, like new foods, and eventually learn to behave well at mealtime. This will help them grow and develop in a way that is right for them. Sounds pretty good, right?
So, how does a Positive Feeding Style affect oral health? Did you know that low-cariogenic foods could potentially reduce the risk of dental caries? Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps protect teeth by stimulating the production of saliva, which cleanses the mouth and makes it less acidic. (5) Additional foods that help protect against dental caries include calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, low-fat cheese, fortified soymilk, tofu, almonds, and some dark green leafy vegetables. Phosphorus, a mineral found in eggs, fish, lean meat, dairy, nuts and beans are also great for strong teeth.
- Northstone, K., & Emmett, P. M. (2008). Are dietary patterns stable throughout early and mid-childhood? A birth cohort study. The British journal of nutrition, 100(5), 1069–1076.
- Hughes, S. O., Power, T. G., O’Connor, T. M., Orlet Fisher, J., & Chen, T. A. (2016). Maternal feeding styles and food parenting practices as predictors of longitudinal changes in weight status in Hispanic preschoolers from low-income families. Journal of obesity, 7201082.
- Arlinghaus, K. R., Vollrath, K., Hernandez, D. C., Momin, S. R., O’Connor, T. M., Power, T. G., & Hughes, S. O. (2018). Authoritative parent feeding style is associated with better child dietary quality at dinner among low-income minority families. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 108(4), 730–736.
- Satter, E. (2019). Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed: follow the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Retrieved from: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2018). Eat right for a healthy mouth and teeth. Retrieved from: https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/eat-right-for-a-healthy-mouth-and-teeth
- Castle, J., & Jacobsen, M. (2018). Fearless feeding: How to raise healthy eaters from high chair to high school. Fearless feeding press.