Updated: May 25, 2022
Developing a Healthy Relation with Food By Megan S.
One area of health that can be overlooked is nutrition. Nutrition knowledge varies in each individual, but it is essential that everyone is informed about basic nutrition and why it is important in our everyday lives. Parents especially have an important role in their children's’ lives, making decisions for what they eat on a regular basis. Children observe, and therefore learn to eat through their parents/guardians. Parents are responsible for developing eating habits and patterns in children that can last with them their whole lives.
The topic covered in today’s post will focus on how parents/ guardians can set their children up for better eating habits by educating themselves, leading by example, feeding their children nutritious foods, and avoiding restrictive habits towards food. The information will be applicable to all children, but with an emphasis for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
As mentioned previously, children learn the most by observing their parents and their environment. As for children diagnosed with ASD, they are less likely to learn through observation because of their ability to “attend” to their surroundings. One simple way for guardians to assist their child in having good eating habits is to get into the routine of breaking down meals and snacks along with their child. To define “breaking down”, it could mean categorizing food groups together, making patterns, or naming foods. Food can be broken down by different categories, such as flavor (salty, spicy, sweet, or bitter), color, texture, or food group. The different food groups include: fat, protein, carbohydrate. The different food groups, called macronutrients, are especially important to know for overall health. Each food group has highly functional roles for health and wellness, especially in growing children.
For information about each food group, check out this website: https://www.inspiringmeme.com/childrens-nutrition-guide-what-are-organic-macronutrients/
Children may go through a phase in their younger life, between the ages of 2- 7, called food neophobia. It's the fear of trying new foods or food that they are unfamiliar with. Children with ASD are more prone to experience picky eating habits, and are therefore more likely to experience neophobia, that may even last after the age of 7. This is natural for children to experience, but it can prove to be frustrating for most families. The best way to assist a child in trying unfamiliar foods is to eat it around them, and eat it more often, so eventually the food becomes “less fearful”. Although, this can be a difficult task in children with ASD. A scientific article written by Kirsten Berding and Sharon M. Donovan states, “ Approximately 90% of children with ASD experience some sort of feeding-related concern. Children with ASD are more likely to present with food allergies, and parental reports of allergies include milk/dairy, nuts, and fruits. Picky eating, food refusal, and food selectivity are commonly reported problematic eating behaviors in children with ASD…”(1). Being able to overcome the fear of a new food will not only help a child expand their knowledge and develop confidence, but also receive a variety of nutrients.
It's beneficial for children and adults to eat a variety of different foods over a period of time because this will provide different nutrients for the body. Each food has a unique makeup of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that the human body needs. The foods that contain the least amount of nutrients are processed foods such as chips, candy, frozen foods, and fast food. Those food items have been so heavily processed that the nutrients have heavily decreased. There is a huge link between highly processed foods and mental health. Studies have found that people who consume a highly processed diet are much more likely to already have, or develop depression, anxiety, high levels of stress, fatigue, and brain fog. The brain and the gut are symbiotic. That is why it is so important to feed children nutrient dense foods because their minds are developing. When it comes to deciding on meals and snacks for children, it is important to remember that balance is the key.
A good way to maintain a healthy relationship with foods is to stop labeling foods as “good” and “bad”. This bad habit can lead to negative self thoughts and feelings of guilt when not consuming a perceived “good” food. As a parent it is essential to maintain a healthy mindset around food. Children can pick up on habits without even realizing it. Of course, there are foods that provide more nutrition than others, and some foods don't provide any nutrition, but those foods can still be a part of a healthy diet. Here is a tip: don’t restrict, but add. For example, if a child wants candy as a snack, don't restrict their cravings but acknowledge them. Candy alone has nothing but sugar and fat, so a way to make that snack more nutritious and filling is by adding fiber and protein. Adding fiber will help them feel satisfied, and protein will keep them fuller longer. Fiber will also help the digestion of sugar into the bloodstream, so it is more steady and will not cause a spike and crash. Fruit has great fiber, and nuts, seeds, and peanut butter have good protein.
For more information on fiber for kids: Fiber Recommendations for Children - Kids Plus Pediatrics https://kidspluspgh.com › Doctors' Notes
In conclusion, it's important to establish a mindset around food, and make sure children are getting the nutrition they need to grow (including their minds). A great way to begin is to ensure parents know the basics about nutrition and why it is important for a healthy lifestyle. Parents/ guardians play a huge role in setting up a healthy relationship around food. As for parents of children diagnosed with ASD, this may be more of a challenge as they are more likely to have problematic eating habits. Remember to lead by example and provide support for trying unfamiliar foods. The last important step is remembering to not restrict children from enjoying foods that are normally considered “bad”. It's normal for every person to crave treats, especially at a social event or birthday party. Healthy eating habits include balance.
*Each topic included in this post will be further expanded upon in future articles. Sources used:
A;, Wallace GL;Llewellyn C;Fildes A;Ronald. “Autism Spectrum Disorder and Food Neophobia: Clinical and Subclinical Links.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30321276/. Berding, Kirsten, and Sharon M. Donovan. “Microbiome and Nutrition in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Current Knowledge and Research Needs.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 17 Nov. 2016, https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/74/12/723/2655185.
“Fiber Recommendations for Children.” Kids Plus Pediatrics, https://kidsplus.com/parent-resources/doctors-notes/fiber-recommendations-for-children/.