I wrote a post for WebMD about nutrition myths and it got me thinking about feeding myths that plague families. I often say that if I didn’t know what I know, I would make many feeding mistakes (and I know my husband would). And it wouldn’t be because I’m a bad person, it would simply be based on myths about food and feeding that are pervasive in our culture.
So here are 8 feeding myths that hold parents back from feeding well and nourishing their children. For more specific nutrition myths see this post.
1. You have to be a good cook to feed your children well: I understand all too well what it’s like to enter parenthood with few cooking skills, scared to death that my preference for simple cooking would negatively reflect on my children. I asked my writing partner, Jill Castle, for some feedback and she mentioned this one, along with a couple of others listed.
“Moms think if they don’t know how to cook or have a limited repertoire of menu items that they are the reason their child doesn’t eat well or healthfully,” she says. “The truth is most kids like uncomplicated straightforward meals with minimal fuss–and they like to put them together themselves (and eat better when they do). ”
Hooray for simple cooks!
2. Eating is a two-step process: Dr. Kay Toomey, pediatric psychologist and Director of SOS Feeding Solutions, says eating for children is not a two step process (sit down/put in mouth) the way many parents believe. Learning to eat is actually quite complex with a steep learning curve. Pickier children, who tend to be more sensitive to food textures, may need as many as 32 steps (see below for examples) to happen before they are ready to put a food in their mouth!
Go here for more of Toomey’s myths.
3. Children shouldn’t play with their food or get messy: “The biggest myth I see that gets in the way of learning about food, is that we need to clean kids as we feed them: gigantic bibs, swiping their chin with the spoon, wiping away every bit of mess,” says Melanie Potock, feeding specialist and creator of My Munch Bug.
Like Toomey, Potock says kids need to experience food using their entire sensory system often before taking their first bite. This is how they learn about taste, temperature and texture of food. See more about the importance of playing with food in this helpful article.
4. Parents are to blame for picky eating: There is a tendency to blame parents for kids’ being selective with food. But according to a 2007 review article by Lucy Cooke, it’s a 50/50 proposition. That means about 50 percent of kids’ eating is genetic and the other 50 percent is their environment (the foods that become familiar to them), over which parents have the most control.
In fact, food neophobia (reluctance to try new foods) is not only a normal part of development (peaking from 2 to 6), it is highly genetically linked. So instead of trying to change your eater, which is a battle no one should engage in, take control of the home environment and let your child learn to like a variety at their own pace with positive encouragement and support.
5. Children naturally dislike healthy food: There is a common belief that children are born not liking healthy food. While children do prefer sweeter tastes and reject bitter ones, which is why they tend to be carb queens/kings and take a while to warm up to veggies, this is only part of the story.
The truth is most kids learn that eating healthy is not fun based on how they are fed. According to a 2007 study published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, after age 6 kids had a negative taste impression of healthy foods. Many of the children discussed the creative ways they were able to eat disliked vegetables that parents insisted they eat, such as squeezing their nose, eating the non-tasty food first or adding ketchup to the vegetables.
6. Children always have to eat at meals: Many parents believe that kids need to eat at every meal. This often leads to the mistake of only providing food that kids readily accept, increasing the shelf-life of picky eating.
It’s very normal for kids to eat very little (or not at all) at some meals and gorge at others. In fact, laboratory studies on young kids’ eating shows that even though calorie intake varies greatly from meal to meal, it’s surprisingly consistent from day to day.
7. Lean kids are healthy kids: In her private practice Castle often hears parents say, “well my child doesn’t have a weight problem” as justification for eating whatever they want, and that usually translates to too much empty-calorie food.
Despite the obesity statistics , most kids will not battle their weight. But eating well is not just about weight as smaller kids can have bad health and bigger kids can have good health. What’s really at stake is a child’s current and future relationship with food. Don’t we want all kids, regardless of weight, to enjoy good health and feed themselves well?
8. If you get food and nutrition right, you automatically raise a healthy child: While I’m reading a zillion research studies for Fearless Feeding, one review on responsive feeding said it best: “Nutritional recommendations that focus exclusively on food and ignore the feeding context may be ineffective, inadvertently encouraging parents to use nonresponsive, controlling behaviors, with little consideration to children’s contribution to feeding interactions.”
It takes much more than getting kids to eat healthy to raise healthy eaters. While What kids eat matters, so does understanding their developmental process and how best to instill eating confidence and a love of nutritious food. Join us on Our Fearless Feeding Facebook Community to discuss important issues.
Do any of these myths surprise you? Are there any you want to add?
Black et al. Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive paring. The Journal of Nutr. 2011;141(3):490-494.
Cooke L. The importance of food exposure for healthy eating in children: review. J Hum Nutr Diet ;2007: 20;294–301
Zeinstra et al. Cognitive development and children’s perceptions of fruit and vegetables; a qualitative study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2007;, 4:30