Many of our routines and structures have been turned upside
down. The one thing that continues to be essential is that we still
need to eat! By seeking ways to connect with food and take the
pressure off ourselves and our kids, we create opportunities to
reduce stress and nurture healthy eating.
To help with this, one of the experts in how we eat and feed,
Ellyn Satter, encourages this approach to build structure around
food — YOU provide and THEY decide, in which adults and kids
have different job.
What food to offer
|Whether to eat|
|When to offer food||How much to eat|
|Where to offer food||Grow as nature intended|
Perhaps there’s something in here you’d like to try. If not, that’s OK too. We all need different things to help us
Aiming to provide food at regular times can help children feel safe and secure by providing some structure
during these changing times. We can support healthy eating for ourselves and kids when we build a predictable
routine of regular meals and snacks even without a daycare, preschool, or school routine.
Creating structure isn’t always easy and it can take time to figure out what is best for your family. It may help to
have more planned snacks than usual right now. The key is to keep timing relatively consistent. If this is
something new, consider finding ways to make it special. Homemade paper placemats may not last long but can
be a great activity for kids. What to do in between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and planned snacks? Offer kids the
choice of water or waiting until the next meal or snack.
Allowing children to decide whether and how much to eat of the foods offered can support positive, lower
stress mealtimes, and in the long run, build healthier eaters. Including foods that our kids will usually eat at
meals and snacks can help them feel confident that they can fill themselves up and ward off hunger later. They
could still have a say in the menu before it gets on the table. You don’t have to take their request but who
knows, they may provide some inspiration!
All foods can fit into a healthy pattern of eating. And that becomes
especially important when feeding kids during COVID-19, as anxiety and stress are elevated. If you enjoy cookies and other sweets, it’s OK to include them in the rotation of foods offered to kids too. When we provide children
with some access to sweets, alongside other foods, it takes away the
power, and provides them with the opportunity to learn to include them in
moderation in the long run. As long as we’re providing a variety of foods,
from what is available right now, we’ve done our job well.
Consider including meals that offer “build your own” options such as a
grain-bowl buffet at dinner or an oatmeal buffet at breakfast. Tacos and
pizza are other options where children can learn to enjoy a greater variety
of foods through a diversity of toppings or fillings. Kids generally get what they need over time to grow as
nature intended. Once you’ve got it on the table, YOU have provided, and now THEY decide whether and how
much to eat from the foods that are offered.
Go easy on yourself. As parents and caregivers, you are doing the best that you can in these uncertain times.
What works for one person may be different for someone else. Getting food on the table is only one part of the
picture. Look for ways to build connection and enjoyment to help cope with stress. During this time of social
distancing, we wish everyone health and pleasure with eating today and in the long run.
Article by Nicole Spencer, MEd, RD, Public Health Dietitian and Vanessa Lam, RD, Public Health Dietitian