Timi Gustafson | How to help your grand-daught eat healthy

Dear Timi,

My 12-year old grand-daughter is getting chunky. I’m alarmed by this since she was always a healthy and athletic girl who never had any weight concerns until now. Her parents are getting divorced and I suspect that her newly acquired eating disorder has something to do with the stress she’s experiencing from this unfortunate event in her life. What can I do to prevent her from becoming overweight or worse?

Dear Reader,

Kids respond to stressful situations in similar fashion as we adults do, except that they have a more pronounced sense of helplessness added. When dramatic changes occur in a child’s life, such as their parents getting a divorce, their whole world gets turned upside down. So they reach for the few tools they have at their disposal to cope with the situation as well as they can.

Dysfunctional and destructive behavior can result in response to the traumatic impact events like these have. Reaching for food may give them comfort and help them to calm down their anxieties. It may also be a cry for help.

Some children blame themselves for their parents’ actions and seek ways to punish themselves out of misguided feelings of guilt. And there is also the turmoil that comes with the dissolving of a household. Sit-down family dinners give way to irregular eating habits. Unsupervised kids are not likely to maintain a healthy diet regimen on their own.

If pizza delivery and fast food joints are the most convenient options, parents will be tempted to go for the easy road when they already have a hard time holding things together.

As a grandparent, provided you live nearby and you’re in a position to offer any help, you can prepare a few “extra healthy” dishes for your grand-daughter or invite her to share a sit-down meal with you every so often. Perhaps you can take her to a nearby farmers market or health food store and initiate a conversation about the benefits and pleasures of eating fresh, tasty and nutritious foods.

At twelve, she can be treated like an adult in these matters and as a grandparent, you may be in a better position than her parents to bring a little stability into her life when she needs it the most. If nothing else, you let her feel that she is still being loved and cared for.

Of course, it would be naive to think that insisting on good nutrition could take anything away from the pain a child goes through in a situation like this. However, weight issues and other potential health problems only add to the damage that is being done to this young life. Therefore, I wish to encourage you to take appropriate action along the lines I mentioned, based on your observations and hopefully in agreement with the parents, if that is at all possible.

Dear Timi,

My three-year-old must be the pickiest eater in the world. I’m having the hardest time to make him eat at least one full meal a day. It is beginning to concern me that he may not get even his most basic nutritional needs met. I have tried many things to trick him into eating without much success and I’m reaching the end of my wits. Any ideas how to convince this little “hard head” that he must eat his food?

Dear Reader,

Most kids go through phases where they test your strength and resolve as well as their own. The dinner table is just one of the battlefields. And it is not always about food, even when food is the issue of contention.

If you don’t take the bait and don’t make a big deal out of it, it will eventually subside. Keep offering your son a variety of healthy foods, and don’t ever try to bribe him with treats of lesser nutritious quality, such as candy or ice cream. It’s a myth to think that kids have naturally a sweet tooth.

On my blog, I have a section called “Kids Love Healthy Foods,” which is based on my professional experience and personal belief that kids learn to love healthy foods as much as they learn to love anything. All preferences in a child’s life are learned, including eating preferences. It’s up to you as the parent to channel that learning process in the right direction. It may take some time, so be patient – it is well worth the effort.

Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Find more tips for a healthy lifestyle in her book which is available at local bookstores, at www.amazon.com and at her blog. Visit timigustafson.com to read many more articles as well as her Glad You Asked Q+A sessions and post your own questions, comments and suggestions.

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