Child nutrition should first and foremost be about nurturing children. However, when it comes to feeding littles, we tend to focus on our own agenda. For example, getting vegetables into our child, making sure they eat enough, BUT NOT TOO MUCH and keeping the lid on sweets. All the while, we overlook the signals coming from our child. Is she hungry? Is he full? Are they enjoying their meal?

When we focus solely on nutrition, kids often eat poorly. However, with shifting towards positive feeding and behavior based strategies, we can raise curious, mindful eaters. In other words, we need to relax on WHAT foods we provide, while focusing on HOW we feed the family. 

The difference between getting veg into your child and your child eating veg? 

Let’s use broccoli as an example. 

Toddler eating broccoli

GETTING BROCCOLI IN

It is fairly easy to get broccoli into your child. For instance, you can hide it in food, cake or smoothies. Or, you can bribe your child with treats. If they eat just one tiny piece of broccoli now, they can have a piece of chocolate for pudding. Another way is to beg. Some children will eat a piece of broccoli simply to please you. While you may succeed at getting broccoli, and therefore valuable nutrients, into your child, the methods are flawed. 

  • 🥦 Your child will not be familiar with how broccoli looks, feels and tastes, if you are hiding it in foods or drinks
  • 🥦 If your child finds out that your are sneaking broccoli into their favourite meal or drink, it might break your kids trust. Or, at the very least, they will think broccoli must be unwanted food.
  • 🥦 Sweets and treats may seem effective bargaining tools. However, bribing with food will make the broccoli less desirable and the treats more exciting. Which means, your child will be less likely to eat broccoli and more likely to seek out sweet treats.  
  • 🥦 If your child eats broccoli to make you happy, they are more likely going to attach negative feelings with eating the green veg. Those could be insecurity, guilt or shame. 

EATING BROCCOLI

On the other hand, your child will benefit greatly from being allowed to warm up to broccoli in their own time. They may not eat it straight away. It might even take years before they heartily tuck into a bowl of broccoli. But the moment your child picks up broccoli out of their own free will and fancy, you can be assured they have positive connotations to broccoli. Enjoying food and feeling good about eating long term immeasurably outweighs the short term benefit of a few extra nutrients.

  • 🥦 Your child will know they can pick broccoli up and eat as much as they like, or none at all. Without the pressure, eating unfamiliar foods will be a lot less daunting. 
  • 🥦 When your child eats broccoli, it is because they enjoy it.  So, they will most likely use it in their own cooking, when they are grown up.
  • 🥦 Broccoli is just food. Not more or less desirable than other foods. Therefore, it is normal to fancy broccoli one day and reject it another day. 
  • 🥦 Your child’s body is an intricate system. It is amazing at regulating their food intake. So, if they don’t get essential nutrients from broccoli, they will get them from other sources. 
  • 🥦 Your family is freed from fights over broccoli, peas and sprouts!

In this example I used broccoli. But it isn’t about the broccoli at all. You could insert any food in broccoli’s place. However, it is crucial to give children some independence when it comes to choosing what goes in their bodies. Pressure at the dinnertable almost always backfires. Even mild or positive pressure! Instead, we need to learn to trust their bodies, read their signals and encourage them to share their feelings. Because, as much as we might sometimes want to, we cannot feel inside our children’s bodies or look inside their tiny heads. 

I have taught many parents to feed their children according to their bodies signals. To feed well, parents need to provide structure, by establishing meal and snack routines. At the same time, they need to release control once meals and snacks are served. With the right tools and compassion, you too can raise children who enjoy a variety of foods, manage to self-regulate their food intake and learn the life skill of navigating through a complicated food environment. 

My favourite tool for raising children with a positive relationship with food is the Division of Responsibility, which gives children both structure and independence.

The Division of Responsibility in feeding

Read more about the Division of Responsibility in my blog article.

Learn what to feed your child, how to do it, and which lifestyle behaviours anchor your child’s future health.

Life’s too short to worry about broccoli. Transform your family meals by supporting your children in developing positive and relaxed eating behaviours.

“I attended Kinder Nutritions webinar on raising mindful eaters and found it was packed full of great ideas on how to feed my fussy children! Verena made so much sense, I wondered why I’d never thought about eating in that way before! I will definitely be trying out some of her suggestions. I would highly recommend anyone having trouble with their children’s eating to give this a go! Thank you Verena." JESS, MUM OF TWO