Developing Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

I recently was presented with a question on whether or not our Leaning Protocol could or should be utilized to help a 13-year-old son of a Power Athlete slim up for team sports. My knee jerk response was are you trying to give your kid an eating disorder at the ripe old age of 13 by putting him on a diet? Restricting children’s access to forbidden foods tends to lead to overeating and poorer self-regulation of energy intake. So keeping your secret stash of cookies hidden in the pantry because Junior can’t have it isn’t the way to go, but there is a real need for education among parents on how to implement and encourage healthy eating habits in their kids. So let's jump in and explore a better way.

The first thing we need to get across is that the nutritional needs of kids and adults doesn’t vary much when it comes to the major tenets of the Power Athlete Diet. The bulk of the diet should consist of animal protein sources, whole food carbohydrates such as potatoes, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. Breastfeeding exclusively is the recommended optimal feeding method from birth to 6 months followed by an introduction of solid foods with continued breastfeeding for a minimum of one year.

When introducing solid foods, many pediatrician and modern practitioners gravitate towards foods that are less immunogenic, the most common being rice cereal, but there are many other great first food choices including avocado, sweet potato, liver, egg yolk, squash, bananas and plantains. For the most part, parents don’t tend to really start pulling their hair out when it comes to food choices until kids reach the toddler phase.  

This is where patience becomes a HUGE factor in influencing your kids eating behavior. Research has shown that new foods may need to be introduced to pre-school aged children 10-16 times before acceptance occurs!

So let’s jump ahead.

Your kid is no longer a toddler and you’ve noticed that the kid has been growing out more so than up. Let me reiterate, putting a kid on any kind of calorie restricted diet presents concerns, so let’s talk about the real problem in your kids diet.

Hyperpalatable foods!

The food industry pays big bucks to food chemists to engineer foods that tap into our unique brain chemistry and stimulate endorphins that produce a pleasurable experience.  Animal studies have even been conducted whereby consumption of palatable foods overtime may lead to a reduction in brain reward response resulting in an increased tendency to overeat. So indulging your children by allowing the bulk of their meals to consist of sugar cereal, pizza, chicken nuggets and fries will make meal time even harder when you try to introduce healthy items like grilled chicken and vegetables because their brains aren’t giving them the same reward response.

We’ve established that the little guys diets need to mirror ours with an emphasis on animal proteins, whole foods carbohydrates and healthy fats... but how do we actually get the kids to eat it and like it?

Surprisingly, the answer seems fairly simple.

Children’s preferences and intake patterns are largely a reflection of the foods that become familiar to them. Research indicates that the extent to which fruits and vegetables are present and readily available in the home correlates positively with the child’s level of consumption of these foods. In fact the ONLY significant predictor of intake for children that reported a high preference for fruits and vegetables vs a low preference for fruits and vegetables was their availability in the home!

This indicates that the best thing that you can do for your kid when it comes to influencing healthy eating behaviors is to practice what you preach and fill your home and their plates with healthy foods! The simple act of controlling what comes into the house goes a long way in controlling what actually goes into their mouths.

Getting your child to eat right is difficult and must be approached with a different set of tactics than with an adult. While the nutritional needs of kids don’t differ much from those of an adult, certain considerations must be made as they mature. You’ll do your child a favor by avoiding hyperpalatable foods that could lead to a lifetime of trouble. And obviously, if you want your child to eat right, you must first be the change you want to see in them.

Set an example that your kids will want to follow! “Diet” is a dirty word when it comes to childhood nutrition but with the aforementioned tactics you can positively influence your child to eat for a lifetime of health!

SOURCES:

Johnson, Paul M., Paul J Kenny. "Dopamine D2 Receptors in Addiction-like Reward Dysfunction and Compulsive Eating in Obese Rats." Nature Neuroscience 13 (2010): 635-641. Web 11 Feb. 2017.

Savage, Jennifer S., Jennifer Orlet Fisher, and Leann L. Birch. “Parental Influence on Eating Behavior: Conception to Adolescence.” The Journal of law, medicine & ethics : a journal of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics 35.1 (2007): 22–34. PMC. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

Http://robbwolf.com/author/robb-wolf/. "Feeding kids Paleo." The Paleo Diet - Robb Wolf on Paleolithic nutrition, intermittent fasting, and fitness. N.p., 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

 

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Leah Kay

RN, BSN; Nutrition Coach at Power Athlete at Power Athlete
Former collegiate volleyball player and 7 year competitive CrossFitter. 6x CF regional qualifier and 1x CF Games qualifier. Began coaching CrossFit in 2009 while working towards a Bachelor's in Nursing. Studied functional medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging in 2013 with specific emphasis on nutrition and hormone regulation. Continues to blend love of coaching and wellness as Head Trainer and Co-Owner of CrossFit Katy and Functional Nutritionist at Specialty Healthcare and Wellness in Houston, TX.
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One Response to Developing Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

  1. Jade

    Our systems are dependant on the food we consume so eating well should be a top priority for us. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals are critical for proper functioning and without these, your body and mind will start to deteriorate much faster. Knowing what to consume is based on so many individual factors and I can help figure those factors out. I am a nutritional therapist in Cape Town, love your thoughts.

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