Sean Cornish ‘The Healthy Dad’ is a daddy bopper, personal trainer and dietitian. He is father to a two year old with another little one on the way.
Sean’s mission is to improve children’s relationship with food by helping parents navigate the information overload about healthy eating.
You can check out the Healthy Dad blog at www.thehealthydad.com.au
Congratulations if you’re reading this, you’re the sort of parent that is invested in their child’s growth and development and that is something worth recognising.
Relationships, such as the one between child and parent, are never perfect but they can be healthy and this same thought can be extended to your little one and their relationship with food.
It’s an interesting notion, the thought of a ‘relationship with food’ and one you may have never thought of before.
It’s something I’m constantly thinking about as a dietitian, providing perspective on eating behaviour, as well as sharing the knowledge of nutrition science.
Stop stressing about ‘right or wrong’ foods
The landscape of nutrition has changed, with an overload of information and the labelling of food as right, wrong, good or bad and with it the complication of the basic human process of eating.
I find that so much of my role now, is navigating through that information, to take some of the parental anxiety/ negative self-judgement away from the contents of your fridge or pantry.
The human body at 1 or 3 or 93, needs water, protein, carbohydrates and fats. Whatever we eat provides us with that, in various forms, ratios and textures.
Certain foods can provide us with greater quantities of each and most also have a number of micronutrients, also essential to the human body.
What food is best at what stage of life is subject to a lot of scrutiny and we have found ourselves in a place where we feel guilty as parents, if we don’t comply or subscribe to the ‘healthiest’ school of thought.
You define your family’s health
Here is the deal though, you as parents get to decide what your family’s definition of health is.
What we talk about when we speak from a healthy relationship with food stand point, is an eating competence where child is able to respond to hunger and satiety cues, able to eat a variety of foods consistent with the family meals, and is statistically at the least risk of chronic disease.
So here are a couple of pieces of advice in formulating your definition of health and your little ones relationship with food:
Connect, don’t count
Through the mass marketing of weight loss programs and our society’s preoccupation with body shape, we have become very good counters: calories, serves, sizes, grams of fat and carbs, ratios of omega 3:6’s, this enzyme, that micro-nutrient.
It’s all about numbers and labels.
Your little one will eat for their entire lives, so let us as the professionals worry about the numbers of serves, calories or ratios, as the parent you guys please have some fun!
Use food to connect with your little one
Provide yourself the freedom and time to prepare and enjoy the trial and error that comes with introducing new foods.
It takes a little one multiple attempts to suss out a new food.
Just enjoy the process and laugh along with it. Remember it’s socially acceptable to wear bibs in public for the early part of our lives, don’t be afraid to use them!
Just on that front, one of the best handy little snacks in the early stages is an avocado.
Pop it in a little zip lock bag, they’re easy to transport, edible with a spoon and kids of all ages can eat them.
Let growth be your KPI
Growth charts were created for a reason, compare them to that and not to other kids in your social circle.
Your child will grow at his or her own trajectory, all we really need to see is that there is continued trajectory.
Yes kids grow out and up or up and out and I’m sure as they all get older, as parents that will bring with it plenty of challenges.
For now just know that your child should be growing in both length and weight. If there is a decrease in weight then see your GP or Paediatric Dietitian.
If your child is growing then he or she is listening to their appetite, you are providing adequate nutrition and the finer detail of macro and micro-nutrients can be navigated through.
Make food a part of family life
If we can prepare for our families from our kitchens, eat with them from our dinner tables, as well as clean up in our sinks and involve them in all three parts of that process, we’ve taken the best steps possible toward that healthy relationship.
Make these the constants in your family, rather than the latest super foods or buzz nutrition product.
Then your child’s relationship with food is developing on a solid foundation, not one of counting or concern!