How to Help Your Child with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, or Behavior Disorders Eat More Nutritious Food
I hear it on a regular basis, “If he even thinks it is healthy, he won’t touch it.” “It’s a vegetable, she doesn’t eat vegetables.” “If it isn’t white, fried or sweet he’s not eating it.” Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? You’re not alone, but there is a solution. You buy the food that is available in your house to eat. If you stop buying the processed, sugary, chemical filled food; s/he won’t be able to eat it. I know this sounds harsh and you worry about what s/he will eat instead. The surprising thing is that most kids will eventually eat what is available if no other option exists. Many parents ask how to go about making this change. Below are some tips for making the transition. Keep in mind, nobody said change was easy, but you and your child will live through it.
- Be prepared for some whining, complaining, negotiating, and possibly even some tantrums. If you stay strong and hold your ground providing factual non-emotional information about the change most children will come around in a few days. Being prepared for what is to come and having a game plan for how to handle it will make these tough times easier to handle.
- Begin the transition by getting rid of all the food that you don’t want your child to eat. Having it gone from the house makes it easier for you to not give in and eliminates the unhealthy foods as an option.
- Stock your refrigerator and pantry with a variety of healthy options, in convenient ready to go servings. Having a bowl of fresh fruit available on the table/counter makes for an easy grab and go snack, especially for teens that just grab the first thing they see.
- Prepare the foods you want your child to eat at each meal and place them on the table with confidence that s/he will eat them. Call him/her to the table and if s/he begins to complain simply inform him/her that this is what is to eat and it is their choice to eat it or not, but you are not making anything else. After 10 minutes if they have not eaten anything you can dismiss them from the table and inform them when the next mealtime will be. Remember you get to decide what you serve and when you serve it, your child decides what and whether they will eat of the food presented.
- Be prepared with a handful of healthy nutritious options for breakfast and lunch so that your child can have some choices. For example, you can give your child the choice of oatmeal or whole-grain toast with peanut butter for breakfast. Often times the child will choose a healthy option if it is presented as his/her choice. So, what do you do at dinner time when you know that your child really does not like what is being served (meaning s/he has tried the meal more than once and it is clear that the child does not like it)? This is when I would suggest providing a simple alternative such as bread and peanut butter, leftovers from the previous night, cheese and whole grain crackers.
- Involve your child in planning, shopping and preparing meals. Take some time each week to sit down with your child and having him/her help you make a menu for the week. Let him/her choose a meal or two that s/he would like to help prepare and involve your child in shopping for the needed items. Have your child assist in preparing part or all of the meal a few times each week. This gives kids more experience with food and allows them the opportunity to see what ingredients are being used. The side benefit is that your child is learning a life-long skill and if you are lucky s/he might make you a meal someday.
- Aim to have at least one family meal each day. This can be difficult with our busy schedules, but there are many benefits from the whole family sitting down together at meal times. This is not only a good time for your child to experience others eating and enjoying a wide variety of foods, but it is also a great social experience. Use this time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Take time to find out about the day. This is one of my favorite times of the day at my house. I get a chance to reconnect and find out about all the fun adventures everyone had that day.
- To ensure that your child is eating healthy throughout the day it will be necessary to pack your child’s lunch for school. This can seem like just one more thing to do in the morning when schedules are already often hectic, but some simple pre-planning can make this job quick and easy. Make a plan for the week with your child’s help. Pre-pack anything that is not perishable on the weekends or each evening. Taking an hour over the weekend to cut up vegetables, fruits, cheeses, etc will assist you in quickly putting a lunch together each morning. I try to prepare as much on the weekends as possible and then each night after cleaning out the lunch box from that day I place anything that can be pre-packed in at that time. The next morning it takes me just a few minutes to finish packing lunches and everyone leaves the house with a nutritious healthy meal.
Making the switch to a nutritious healthy eating lifestyle can seem like a big challenge, but following these tips will assist you in making the change with less difficulty. Some of you may be thinking, but my child is very picky or has food sensitivities how can I make a change when we are already limited? If your child is a picky eater you may need to seek assistance with this. Speak to your clinician about a plan for addressing your child’s picky eating. This plan can work for children with food sensitivities as well. It may take a little more time and planning initially, but eating healthy can be achieved no matter what your circumstance.
Written by: Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD, CNS
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