By Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD – Nutrition For Kids
Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog
An interview with Fearless Feeding author Jill Castle
I recently had the opportunity to speak with registered dietitian Jill Castle, a childhood nutrition expert & co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
Connie: The question I get asked most often in my practice is how to manage a picky eater. You do such a great job explaining this in Fearless Feeding. Can you briefly describe the most important points in understanding and managing this behavior?
Jill: The most important point is to understand that most kids go through a picky eating stage—in fact, you can rest assured that your child is normal if he is picky as a toddler! The second point is the way parents respond to picky eating can help children move through it quickly or can draw it out longer than it needs to be. For example, the parent who stays on track with the structure of meals and snacks, doesn’t waver when food is rejected, and doesn’t substitute different foods to compensate for picky eating will move through this stage faster than the parent who pushes their child to eat, chases the child with food, or pulls all kinds of acrobatics to get their child to eat, such as disguising veggies within an entrée. Antics typically don’t work to get children to eat more or a certain food, and more often than not, backfire, making the child wary and suspicious.
Connie: Empty calorie foods are offered to kids everywhere these days, from the bank drive-up to the gas station to the soccer field! What do you say to parents who struggle with setting limits on “treat” foods?
Jill: I always tell parents to set limits—that’s the job of parenthood! Parents do well with setting limits with treat foods when they have a system like the 90:10 Rule, where 90% of what kids eat throughout the course of a day or week is healthy, wholesome, nutritious foods from the MyPlate food guide and 10% come from Fun Foods such as chips, cookies, candy and soda. This boils down to an average of 1-2 Fun Foods per day, well below what many children are consuming today, and tilts the nutrition balance to healthy meals and snacks. It’s a simplified rule that parents and children alike can grasp and put into practice easily!
Connie: I work with a lot of families that “eat on the fly” several days each week. Can you explain why it’s so important to structure family meals into the daily routine?
Jill: Family meals are where children get exposed to new foods, learn how to interact with each other, and learn manners. Research tells us that children who sit down and eat with their families 3-5 times per week have a healthier diet, better grades, are socially well-adjusted and take fewer risks—this holds true for toddlers and teens. Family meals should be pleasant and children should look forward to gathering there to eat—this means that parents need to let go of the food and eating pressure at the table.
The good news is that one or two parents seem to have equal influence on the above, and shared meals can be at any time of day—breakfast, lunch and even snacks, making it realistic to squeeze in 3 to 5 meals a week.
Connie: Can you provide any tips for busy families who find it difficult to get a meal on the table?
Jill: My number one recommendation is to outline a meal plan for the week. I typically plan dinners, as the rest of the meals are easier for me to navigate without a plan. I also use the slow cooker or quick “pull together meals” for busy evenings. Another strategy is to cook ahead and freeze for later. This and more are covered in the book.
Connie: You talk about how parents sometimes neglect themselves and how this can create feeding issues for their children and teens. How can parents connect the dots on how their own lifestyle influences their children’s food choices?
Jill: Adulthood and the eating that goes along with it is merely an extension of childhood. We are all influenced by the way we are raised “around the table” yet we forget to make that connection and reflect on how it may influence how we feed our own children and thus, how they eat.
Parents can learn a lot about their attitudes and approach with feeding by reflecting on how they themselves were raised. These issues are covered in depth in the chapter The Parent Trap, where we help parents identify their own experience as a child with feeding and how that may be playing out in their day-to-day interactions with their own children. It’s quite an enlightening chapter!
Connie: Thank you Jill for sharing such great advice with the Truth on Health readers! You and fellow dietitian Maryann Jacobsen have put together a fabulous “must-read” for all parents!
To find out more about this book, read the author’s blogs and join the “fearless feeding movement, visit Fearless Feeding.