Eating food teaches us to become a nutrition expert on ourselves. We develop food values and beliefs about the types and amounts of food we want to eat and usually eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. We learn about food through experience, trial and error, reading nutrition information or asking for help from someone whose opinion we respect. When we become a parent our children can challenge that expertise and how our food values and beliefs apply to them.
Dietitians help us to understand the complex interplay between our body’s nutritional needs, and the food we eat and help by translating nutrients into meals. A specialist childhood Dietitian considers not only the nutritional needs of the child but the development of the relationship between the parent and the child and the role that food plays in their lives. They are able to assess the unique nutrition and developmental needs of the individual child, translate that into food and then provide realistic strategies that support the development of a creative relationship with food and a positive connection with the parent.
Fussy eating is particularly challenging for parents and children involved as it can be tense and become a focus of the interaction between parent and child rather than an enjoyable experience where food accompanies a moment of connection between parent and child. A power struggle ensues and invariably the child either stubbornly refuses or submissively complies.
Low weight in children is a concern for parents who often struggle to encourage their children to eat more with the result that they will indulge them in any food as long as it is eaten. Nutritious family food values are often compromised as parents worry about getting their child to eat enough food.
Overweight children are often at risk of being singled out for selective food restrictions in an attempt to contain their weight gain. This can lead to cycles of dieting and restrictive/excessive food intake as certain desired foods are restricted.
Dietetic interventions involve a detailed history of the role that food has within the family and an exploration of family food values, areas of nutritional concern and strategies that are used at meal times to encourage and support eating. Generally, behaviours that support a positive interaction with food are encouraged while potential disruptions to eating are minimised. A range of interventions are explored with the parents that facilitate the creation of a fun and supportive mealtime environment. Strategies aim to provide parents with clear step by step processes to help create positive experiences with their children around food and to reduce parental anxiety, guilt and shame and free them to support their children to develop a creative relationship with food.