I'm not sure how old I was when I realized that I had two entirely different 2:00pm personalities. There's the me that can calmly and thoughtfully respond to knocks at my office door and requests for assistance. The one who reads notes and prepares ahead for afternoon appointments. And there's the scared, stressed, aggressive who's slamming fingertips on her touchscreen because she can't remember her email password. Thankfully, I've learned I can't protect myself (and everyone around me) from lady #2 simply by eating lunch.
Since kids' tummies are smaller and nutrition needs are higher (growing takes lots of energy!), missing a midday meal can cause even more chaos. Uncontrolled emotions, shorten attention-spans, and not too mention an overwhelming obsession with snacks immediately following pick-up. Unfortunately, not many kids can prioritize eating as well as 40-something year old me! If you're a parent that packs lunch and you're struggling with getting your child to eat it, here's one tool that will certainly help:
A bento box!
What’s the magic?
Your child opens the lid and… voila! All the food is available all at once.
It may feel trivial, not all that ‘magical’, and, well, meh….
Yet, it works!
It works for a few reasons. It works because it:
Creates Food Equality: When all the options in your child’s lunch are laid out in front them at once, they’re much more likely to reach for a piece a less coveted item than if they have to take an extra step to seek that item out on their own. In other words, if there’s a box displaying a PBJ sandwich, a few pieces of Pirate’s Booty, a handful of baby carrots and a couple of sliced strawberries, your child will be much more likely to give that sandwich or the strawberry slices a fair shake than if they have to open or unwrap each item separately. In the latter example, most children are more likely to choose their favorite item, open it up and then work their way down the food chain depending on how hungry (or time crunched) they’re feeling. P.S. If you have a tool that'll create REAL food equality, please share! Obviously, this tool ain't got a shot in you-know-what at solving that issue.
Saves Seconds: While it may seem like it takes a millisecond to peel open a ziplock bag, crack the top on a reusable container, to a child that time could be the difference between reaching for a piece of food and, well, not.
Makes Parenting Easier: Automation makes things faster and more efficient, right? I find that the four squares in my favorite bento box serve as an automatic cue to hit the nutrition marks that are most important. For my child, a balanced lunch contains some protein, a fruit, a vegetable, and a whole grain. This can vary from child to child, depending on whether or note they’re struggling with a particular nutrition or growth issue. (The marks I use are a good rule of thumb for most healthy children, however.)
Looking for suggestions? I bought the PlanetBox Rover right before my daugher started Kindergarten. She's used it every single school day (bar those few times she took a school trip) and it's still going strong three and half years later. Of course, that's not the only option. A simply search for 'bento box' in Amazon will give you tons to choose from. The key is choosing something that can be easily opened (yet leak proof! read the reviews!) and has at least three compartments of varied sizes.
BONUS! Planet-Friendly and Cost-Effectiveness.... Choose a bento box that’ll last a year or longer and you’ll avoid tossing tons (if anyone has a stat on that, I’d love to know it and share it!) of unnecessary waste into landfills. Plus, crossing food packaging off your shopping list saves money too.
If you're wondering what I pack for lunch, let me know. You might be surprised!. (It's certainly not instagram-worthy.) And if you have another box you love, please share.
Smart moms don't merely manage weight issues. Smart moms actively push back against them. Smart moms acknowledge the pressure put on kids (well to be thin, healthy, and perfect and then rally against these self-esteem stealing thieves. If you're a smart mom and have ideas on how to be a renegade when to comes to preserving our kids' body confidence, please share them. Please speak loudly and please don't stop! In the meantime, here's what I got...
Get Rid of the Scale
Weighing myself always feels a little like putting my self-esteem up to a guillotine. Even though I haven't dieted in years, a number on a scale still has the power to send a wave of self-judgement, fear, and shame straight to my soul. Sound dramatic? Can't relate? Even if you don't have a decades long dieting history, consider this: Whenever we put our attention on something, we inadvertently send the message to our kids that it matters. If you're weighing yourself on-the-regular (even minus the all the emotion), then you're sending the message to your kids that it matters. It really matters. If it didn't, why would you be doing it anyway?
PS. If you've gone all Midge Maisel and started documenting your circumference(s), then I'd recommend ditching the measuring tape too.
Designate "Weight" as a Dirty Word
When researchers looked at the ways that parents talk to kids about foods and eating, they found that those that talk about weight raise kids who are significantly more likely to have disordered eating habits. Specifically, their kids are more likely to restrict foods and binge, two behaviors that are risk factors for full-blown eating disorders. Think you're in the clear because you never pressure your kids to lose weight? Nope. Parents who talk about eating a certain way to maintain weight or to avoid gaining weight had children who fell in to that high risk group too.
Even if you're not preaching weight loss, you might be surprised how often 'weight' comes up in conversation. If nothing else, get curious and listen more closely. A few months back I caught myself declining a dessert with the excuse, "No thanks, I'm watching my weight!" Blah! And the extra sad thing is this: I wasn't watching my weight. I'm a true lover of dessert. (My husband will be the first one to crack a joke about how many pit-stops per week I make at our neighborhood bakery.) I just blurted out that I was watching my weight because I'd found that it'd been a more easily accepted explanation for declining desserts than the truth, which is that I have celiac disease. Yup! Wanting to lose weight is met with much less side-eye, criticism, and questioning than explaining that I have a a digestive disease that requires avoiding gluten.
Ditch Diets for Good
In one long-term study, teenage girls who had moms who were actively dieting were significantly more likely to be pursuing a thin ideal themselves 20 years later. That means there's a chance your desire to slim down could leave a TWO-DECADES-LONG impression on your daughter! And those findings were regardless of where the teenagers fell on the weight spectrum, meaning underweight, 'normal' weight, and overweight (measured by BMI) girls were all impacted equally. By rejecting your own body, you're sending girls who adore you the message that they should reject theirs too. Personally, the thought of my daughters wasting precious time obsessing about thinness makes me want to rage,. If you feel the same, don't just ditch your own diet. Ask other other influential women in their lives to ditch theirs too.
Stop Giving Compliments
When it comes to women's bodies, stop talking about them. Even well-meaning comments can be a zinger. When you tell another woman how 'great' they look, how thin or or 'in shape' they look, you've just told her she's better now than she was before. And you can bet that if your daughter's within earshot, then you just told her you'd value her more if she embodied that look too. If you want to give a compliment, comment on how much you admire someone's courage, conversation skills. how hard they're working, their dedication, their honesty, thoughtfulness, kindness, willingness to speak out, their beautiful taste in clothes, anything... but... their... body. Another reason to nix body comments: You have no idea where someone's coming from. While privileged women are more likely to seek a slim body ideal, not everyone's thinness may be something their proud about never mind have control over. Lots of kids I work with struggle hard to put on a couple pounds, for instance, so the fact that they're meeting YOUR slim ideal likely isn't something their proud of at all.
Protect Kids from the Well-Meaning Pediatrician
Ah, thatâs a strong statement and is tough to write. I love pediatricians, I work them, I trust them and, of course, I regularly take my own kids see to them. That said, sometimes even the most accomplished, respected, and well-meaning pediatrician may not be savvy about recommended approaches for discussing topics such as weight, diet, and health. If a trusted pediatrician makes a misstep in this area, it can have a nasty impact your child's self-worth. Protect kids by telling your provider head of time that you'd prefer any discussion about your child's BMI or weight be done in private (aka without your child in the room). Make it clear that you're open to their encouragements to adopt healthy habits (such as getting enough sleep, limiting social media, being active, and eating mindfully), but you do not want the discussion to focus on your child's weight. When talking to kids yourself, always focus on habits that boost (not zap) energy, generate (not drain) self-confidence, or preserve (not diminish) self-esteem.
What are YOUR bigger, better ideas for pushing back against diet culture so it doesn't destroy our daughters' self-esteem, pleasure, and potential? Please SHARE! I'd love your help and insight in raising my own girls as well as in supporting the amazing parents I meet.
If you've asked me for a book recommendation, I'm finally getting back to you! Here's a list of the little compasses I rely on whenever some eating 'ish leaves me lost and confused. (Yes! Even nutrition 'experts' need a little reassurance about their approach sometimes.) The beauty of these books is they're great for parents as well as pediatric providers. They offer practical tips and share the theory, framework, and science behind them, which allows for extrapolating to all kinds of situations. Read on to learn more about the kid-focused books nutritionists trust ….
Fearless Feeding by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobson
Best for: Getting Straight to the Point!
This book is broken up into chapters by age, letting you dig into the ‘ish that you’re dealing with NOW. Handy, easy-to-read reference charts help identify which nutrients your child needs most during different stages of growth, as well as gives examples of common foods that contain them. The authors also explain how a child’s developmental stage—from infancy to teenage years—may impact their eating behavior. Questions and answers to popular problems parents face also salt and pepper the pages. This is my all-time favorite feeding reference and one that I recommend to parents and pediatricians again and again.
Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter
Best for: Understanding Feeding Dynamics
If you’re like me, you’ve likely winced, shuttered, or possibly stood by in awe(!) at the array of amusing, bizarre, and sometimes surprisingly effective tactics people use to get the kids they love to eat. Wondering what works, what doesn’t, and why? Let Ellyn Satter, the godmother of feeding theory, explain! Satter, a dietitian and family therapist, will take you through the ins-and-outs of the Division of Responsibility (DOR), an evidence-based feeding theory that’s the bomb diggity. Parents that practice the DOR typically raise kids that maintain a natural, healthy body weight, have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, and have more confidence when it come to foods and eating. This classic is great resource for raising balanced, happy eaters. Just can’t wait for your copy? Get tips now by visiting EllynSatterInstitute.org, a site you can bet that every pediatric nutritionist has bookmarked.
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson
Best for: Foodies and want-to-know-it-alls (You are my people, BTW!)
This book tells the fascinating story of the origins of flavor preferences and taste. It’s a journalistic and historical approach to explaining how we learn to eat, which means it gives a treasured perspective on how our kids are learning to eat as well! If an entertaining yet science based walk through fields of interesting nutritional, neurological, and psychological research on eating habits sounds like an awesome way to spend an afternoon, then you'll love this book. Actually, even if you’re NOT particularly jazzed about the topic, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson has that story-teller quality you just can't ignore.
Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Eating Problems, and Expand Your Child's Diet by Cheryl Fraker, RD, Mark Fishbein, MD, Sibyl Cox, RD, + Laura Walbert, CCC-SLP
Best for: Learning the tips and tricks experts use to expand a kid's palate
First off, this book is loaded with info and tips to help solve a variety of feeding problems, from everyday nuisances (like getting a toddler to sit through a meal) to less common problems (like swallowing issues in the special needs child). However, the part I think parents will appreciate most is Chapter 6: How Do I Get My Child to Try New Foods? The info here answers the one question nutritionists get on-the-regular. Food chaining is a pretty simple process that most people pick up on quickly and the explanation and instructions in this chapter provide the tools you need to do it. It's also a great primer for any pediatric practitioner who wants to get familiar with the concept so they confidently pass on some 'picky eating' tips of their own.
Food Refusal and Avoidant Eating in Children including those with Autism Spectrum Conditions by Gillian Harris and Elizabeth Shea
Best for: Understanding picky eating (on steroids!)
Most of the parents I work with use a strikingly similar conversation starter: “He is SO picky! He won't eat anything we give him,” after which a longer conversation reveals that, aside from an assortment of vegetables, exotic-sounding sauces, and fish, the child truly has few food limits. This book is NOT for them.
This book is for caregivers of children dealing children with an extremely extreme form of ‘picky,’ one that can lead to nutritional deficiencies, social isolation, major mealtime stress, and (not surprisingly!) put a major ding in family dynamics. Extremely picky eaters often reject foods for reasons only they may understand. They've often whittled down the list of things they'll accept to 10 five, even just three foods or less, Usually, extreme forms of food rejection relate to sensory issues, anxiety, or a previous negative incident with food (such as choking or food poisoning) NOT with concerns about body shape or size. I find that parents are a mixture of relieved and terrified when I tell them their child's extreme pickiness has a clinical name, ARFID (avoid restrictive food intake disorder) and can quantify as a eating disorder. That said, you don’t need to have an ARFID diagnosis to benefit from the insights in this book! And, if you’re raising a child with autism or working with kids on the spectrum on-the-regular then the tips and advice these authors provide will be a godsend to both you and them.
How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder by Casey Crosbie, RD, CSSD and Wendy Sterling MS, RD, CSSD
Best for: Creating a game-plan for dealing with ED
Speaking of eating disorders, they are HARD. So HARD. EDs are ugly, life-stealing, joy-strangling bastards and I pray as a parent you never have to deal with one. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping parents and pediatricians be mindful about avoiding triggering an ED in any child they talk to about eating, foods, and weight. But I digress… Crosbie and Sterling's book is a bible for any parent trying to tackle the biggest, most malicious feeding obstacle they’ll ever face. Practically speaking, the authors work within the context of Family Based Therapy (FBT) and provide parents with skills they need to support their child through recovery within their own home. It’s a brilliant approach that brings everyone on board, a crucial aspect of long-term success. Even if you’re child doesn’t have a full-blown eating disorder but is teetering with some disordered eating behaviors this book can be a solid asset for steering your family back on course to having a healthy relationship with food.
If you like any of these books, please talk about them with a fellow parent, colleague, teacher, or friend! Spreading the word about positive feeding practices is an awesome way to start changing the culture our kids face when it comes to eating and foods.
I'm Amelia, a pediatric nutritionist by training and a mom by... well, by what authority I still do not know!