Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to Help a Child to Eat Healthy for Life ? Maybe it's All about Emotions

Fruit Bowl Do Not Touch, by D.M, 2012

By Anna M. *

Would you love to have a child who grows old eating healthy foods and who will never think about the words diet or obesity? I do. So it's maybe time to start building a solid base of new culture of "comfort" foods in my home. Yes. Maybe it's time for my family to say goodbye to the bag of chips, ice cream and sweet cookies as comfort-fun foods, and say hello to healthier options. That mini revolution might well start in our own home, kitchen, table and meal planning. At least is what I am trying to do here, and I hope it's not too late.

My 8 years old son is the one who triggered the debate. Since we came back from our summer vacation, he started asking to snack on chocolate bars, cream filled cookies and ice cream. On the back of his mind, I think he was really thinking about extending the feel-good-factor foods of our vacation to his back-to-normal afternoon. I started asking him why he wouldn't graze on grapes, plums, oranges or other amazing seasonal fruits. His answer was that they wouldn't make him happy. So I started asking him to start snacking on fruit so that he could have a treat after. Maybe next time when visiting Italy I will swap the traditional gelato to a fruit bowl.

The idea behind emotional eating and obesity is not new. Some studies, like this one observed that there's a strong link in between emotional eaters and obesity relating their feelings to overeating. The problem is that they are not overeating salads, beans or fruits. They are always choosing certain groups of food that might be considered as comfort.  The Journal of Clinical Nutrition also states in a study that rewarding kids with sweets and fatty foods is also a relevant point to the discussion of children's emotional eating and obesity.

 The problem can be even related to another end of the relationship of parents and kids, as pointed by this study by University of Illinois in 2014. Kelly Bost, a  professor of human development and family studies explains that parents' frustration might lead to overeating: "That pattern of punishing or dismissing a child’s sad or angry emotions was significantly related not only to comfort feeding but also to fewer family mealtimes and more TV viewing, which led to children’s unhealthy eating, including self-reported sugary drinks, fast foods, and salty snacks", Bost said.

As the notion of comfort food is also a concept being discussed by scientists and nutritionists for some time, and very current now: "It makes intuitive sense that positive experiences with a given food could influence our craving for it later on, but recent research also suggests something else is at play, too: comfort foods remind us of our social ties, which means they may help us feel less lonesome when we feel isolated", wrote Alexandra Sifferin at TIME on the article The Science of Why you Crave Comfort Food. The main problem is that tradition, as a family value, is also on the discussion table. If I think about what brings me comfort when anxious or sad, I will immediately run to crunchy salty snacks, or a tub of vanilla ice cream. Those remind me of home, sweet home. So home in my mind is where yummy foods are. And no matter their calories, I will go "home" overtime I need comfort.

Yes. So from now I promised myself that carrot pieces will be the new chips. That (non-GMO) air popped corn will be the new chips. Maybe, (organic) baked apples with cinnamon will be the next apple pie, and quinoa and brown rice pasta the new Sunday evening lasagna. Jamie Oliver, one of my favorite chefs, is already helping families on revisiting their family’s meal and reaching a balanced meal planning that may even include comfort: "Comfort food doesn’t just mean convenient, highly-processed foods or high-fat, sugary foods and recipes. There’s a pleasure to be taken in cooking some recipes, and in eating things we know are good for us. Fruit and vegetables may seem a chore, but eating them in season and appreciating the color and flavor can really change the eating experience. For example, a tomato salad made with seasonal ripe tomatoes offers so much flavor and aroma and can make the ultimate comfort food!", writes Laura Matthews, head of nutrition at Jamie's Oliver website.

But most important of all, I will engage in deeper conversations with my children about how they feel about food, and specially will try to understand underlying issues that much be triggering emotional eating in my younger kid. Povi Family Connect app (available in both Android and iOS) is one of the tools I am using for that and I believe that it is helping me to locate where my son is filling up an emotional gap with food. We will still cook together as we've been doing for years, and hopefully, when we are including even healthier options of fun food we, as a family, will be healthier and happier.

*Povi is having a short kid essay contest from Sept 23 - Oct 23, 2015. Please find the details here. http://povime.blogspot.com/2015/09/5-best-of-povi-contest-share-kids.html

*Anna M, journalist and chef, is content editor of Povi, and blogs about cooking with kids at Cook Play Explore since 2009.

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