Eating Disorder Prevention Tip: Family Meals

Julie Dillon

(In conjunction with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I’m posting tips each day to prevent disordered eating.)

Between the War on Obesity and the mortality rate of anorexia nervosa, parents are throwing their hands up in surrender. What do we feed our children? Not too much or clean your plate? Even more, parents may get caught up in conflicting nutrition science and can’t begin to decide what to serve at home.

Instead of spinning your wheels, I provide an alternative: what we serve our children is not as important as how we serve them. I encourage parents to consider a simple, not easy, solution that prevents both child obesity and eating disorders: eat meals with your children.
Sometime between 12 months and 18 months, kids are ready to eat the same foods adults eat. With a little modification, a parent will no longer have to make separate meals for the adults, older children, and younger children. It may seem appealing to do this…and kids may eat more when fed separate foods. But, as a nation, do we need our children eating MORE? Not necessarily. We need our children to become more confident and comfortable with diverse foods. Cooking 3 different meals at each meal time will not promote this. It promotes pickiness and food insecurities.
Pull up a chair and eat together. Family meals provide these powerful punches preventing EDs:
  • Consistent meal times allow a child to experience the body’s hunger and fullness cues. These cues help maintain optimum energy balance as well as enjoy food.
  • They learn they won’t always like what is offered and how to stay calm. (Their future dates will thank you!)
  • It is normal to start to feel hungry as meal time approaches. Set meal and snack times help kids learn how to tolerate lower levels of hunger without panicking. This skill helps prevent bingeing and hoarding.
  • Kids learn to say “no thank you” when they don’t like something and “I’ve had enough” when offered another helping. Learning these words via modeling helps them to be more confident around different foods and different people.
  • A child noticing a parent stopping to eat and nourishing herself helps the child learn vital self care skills. These skills can then become natural foundations to their adult lifestyles.
Not a gifted chef? No worries. First, get in the habit eating together as a family with the foods you current consume. The rest can work itself out over time. 
So, how’s a parent supposed to get their child to eat the broccoli at the dinner table without a temper tantrum? Tomorrow’s entry will tackle just that. Stay tuned my friends.

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