I have heard so many parents lament, “I have such a hard time getting my kids to eat nutritious food. They only want fast food or junk food and sweets! What can I do?”
We all deal with two types of cravings: appetite and true hunger. It is rather safe to say that in most developed countries relatively few people have ever experienced true physiological hunger. That occurs only when the body is starving and absolutely needs food and nutrients.
In contrast, appetite can be an entirely different thing. The Italians have a saying, “L’apetite vien mangiando,” It means that appetite comes with eating. If you follow that advice, you will no doubt end up overweight.
During the famine in Ireland, I doubt that parents had to coax their children to eat.
My memory goes back to a young patient in my natural health and chiropractic practice in Hawaii. On her teacher’s recommendation, the 5-year-old girl was brought to see me by her mother, whose complaint was that her daughter did not want to eat. The child was thin and sickly and sat on a chair all day and didn’t play with the other children. The child’s pre-school teacher told the mother her child was “retarded.”
After examining the child to eliminate the possibility of disease, I asked the mother to write down everything the child ate for a week. As far as my memory serves me, the following is essentially what the mother brought to me a week later (not in exact order):
Breakfast: Sugar frosted flakes with skim milk and added sugar.
Mid morning: Half of a Toastum pop-up and a half glass of root beer.
Lunch: Half of a Toastum pop-up and root beer.
Etc. Etc.: You get the picture.
In the instructions I gave the girl’s mother I listed some very nutritious foods such as eggs, yogurt, fruit, vegetables and a few others. The mother was to serve any or all of these foods at each mealtime and allow the child to help herself, but not to coax her to eat. The mother was not to give her anything except water between meals.
“Won’t she starve?” the mother questioned. “Will she be OK?”
I firmly assured her the child, indeed, would be just fine.
A week later the mother returned and reported that her daughter missed two meals, eating nothing. But after that she could not be kept from the table and ate everything put in front of her.
Several weeks later the mother returned to tell me the pre-school teacher was wrong about the girl having mental challenges and she was now playing well with the other children.
What occurred was this. The child needed to experience true physiological hunger, which never happened with the junk food her mother was feeding her. Furthermore, a child’s appetite will wax and wane depending on growth spurts and activity. If you force a child to eat when he or she isn’t hungry, the child can grow to dislike food.
Let me reiterate: Children will not starve or get sick if they miss a few meals. That only will make them enjoy food that much more when they’re ready for it.
Regarding food in general for children, if a child is fussy about eating vegetables and other healthful foods, always feed that food first.
Protein is vital for growing children; it is the substance most important for building muscle and organ tissue. Calcium and phosphorus are important minerals for strong and healthy bones.
Stick with “organic food” if possible. We’ve discussed this in many previous columns.
Try to keep all sugar and sugar-containing foods away from your child. That will be largely up to you by what you bring home from the supermarket and keep in your pantry and kitchen. If it’s not in the house, there will be no temptation.
However, when your child has a little money and is old enough to stop at a neighborhood convenience store, you may have a problem. You’ll have to solve that one on your own.
Here are some important tips in feeding children.
No food between meals, especially within 2 hours prior to a regular meal.
Never force or bribe your child to eat with the promise of desserts as a reward. That will only set a wrong precedent. If your child does not want to eat a particular meal, don’t force it. But, then again, the child gets nothing except water until the next meal.
For strong family bonding have at least one family meal a day together.
Never shop the supermarket when you or your child are hungry.
You will have near absolute control of your child’s diet until he or she can go to a store alone. Establish your child’s nutritional foundation during the early years. Try to educate as you go along.
But don’t make a craving “junk food junkie” out of your child. An occasional indulgence is acceptable, but not too often and never as a reward or a bribe. Children will need this occasionally to feel like other kids.
As our children did, yours will go through a period of testing or even rebelling. Expect it; it will pass.
Eventually their reasoning abilities develop, especially when they become parents themselves.
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus doing investigative reporting and fitness programs for broadcast media in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to drftrapani.com.