Sarah Kolman is the mom of three young boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master’s degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness to help adults and children heal their bodies and live their lives fully. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World. Learn more (and get a free copy of the first 3 chapters of Sarah’s book) at This One Life, or find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Navigating Your Child’s Dietary Needs in the Real World
Raising a kiddo with healthy judgment around food is tough—and it only gets more complicated when they have food sensitivities or allergies. Even though I am a health coach and an RN, I often find myself wishing there was a clear road map that laid out all the answers for me. Our family is still learning as we go. But as my oldest son completes his first year in kindergarten, I realize that we did gain some valuable insights this year.
Choose your priorities
At least once a week we have the opportunity to decide what’s most important (and sane) for our family: to help our son learn to choose foods that are good for his body, or dictate what he eats completely. In addition to his limited intake of dairy, gluten, and refined sugar, he also avoids eggs due to a food sensitivity (IgG reaction). Sticking with this diet is tough in a school where students are requested to share the responsibility of providing daily snacks.
At first we tried just sending him to school with all his own snacks, telling him that they were healthier for him. It wasn’t long before we were getting reports home that he was playing “food cop” at school, lecturing his classmates about their unhealthy snacks. We realized he was acting out because he was sad about eating different food than his classmates, and we went back to the drawing board.
When these situations come up, we talk with him about how he is feeling emotionally, while reminding him that everyone nourishes their bodies in different ways and we don’t know what other people need. We also reiterate the symptoms he experiences when he eats eggs and discuss the reasons why we take care of our bodies through food. We asked what he’d like to do. He wanted to try make his own choices at school, which we agreed to. Well, it wasn’t long before we noticed increased irritability and anger outbursts (his primary reactions to eggs) indicating he was going hog wild with all the various treats at school, at church, at friends’ houses, and on his sports teams. Again, we explained that we want food to make him feel healthy and strong, not frustrated and left out. In talking over various ways to address the problem, we continued to give him a say in the process and let him learn from his own experiences.
Another situation happened just recently where I sent him to a birthday party with his own eggless cupcake, but told him that he could choose which treat he wanted when it was time for his friend to blow out the candles. We know we can’t rig the system forever. At some point, he’s going to have to use his own judgment around food. Of course, he ate the regular cake, eggs and all, and felt crummy afterward. He later told me that the birthday cake was too sweet and he wished he had chosen the eggless cupcake instead. It’s important for us that he understands the impacts his food choices have on how he feels and acts. (And sometimes you just want to be able to send your kid to the birthday party and let them eat the cake, am I right?!)
Look for the middle ground
Now we’re at a place where we’re packing all his snacks again, by this time it’s by his request. He feels like it’s easier to have an option that’s safe for his belly than to miss out, or to eat the same treats and act out. It’s not perfect—and it’s still a work in progress—but he’s learning what works for him as we go. In turn, I am realizing how important it is to keep the dialogue open and involve him in the process.
In my book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World, I outline a method that goes beyond just feeding our kids well and actually inspires them to make their own healthy choices. Foundational to my “Live it. Model it. Teach it.” philosophy are the concepts of inspiring and letting go, versus pushing and convincing.
Live it. First thing’s first—just as in the medical field, the caretaker has to get their needs squared away in order to help others. When I am healthy and happy it benefits me, obviously, but my family, clients, and friends are impacted positively as well. I think many moms and dads often find it difficult to prioritize self-care, but the truth is that we deserve to be healthy and thriving just like our loved ones do. So, stop and ask yourself: Am I regularly neglecting my own self-care? What can I do better?
Model it. We have the opportunity to role model many aspects of a healthy lifestyle, and this of course includes feeding our bodies nourishing food. Make sure you’re not creating a “do as I say, not as I do” situation with food—when we as parents eat poorly at home, it doesn’t help our kids develop good judgment. I find that creating clear structure takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. If we make sure that all the food in our pantry is a good choice for everyone in our household, our sons are free to grow their independence in the kitchen and they have an abundance of good options to choose from.
Teach it. Take your role modeling a step further by adding in nuggets of information. Share your tidbits of information in a positive, proactive manner. We often talk about the food on our plate during dinner with the kids. We share how chlorophyll and antioxidants in our green and vibrant vegetables heal our bodies. More importantly, we draw connections between what we eat and how we feel. When one of our sons has a headache or is more gassy than normal, we try to figure out if their recent meals or snacks are the culprit. Taking the time to verbalize our health choices helps the concepts sink in for our sons.
…and then let go. Eventually, it’s important to step back and let go, and to trust your kiddo’s unique journey. You can always regroup and reassess if you hit a roadblock, and those conversations only get easier once you’ve built a solid foundation around nutrition.
To learn more strategies to balance your family’s dietary needs with your own sanity message me for a free chapter from my book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World.