If you are a parent looking for ways to help your children live a better and healthier life, one area worth exploring is nutritional therapy. Dietary changes can play a huge role in helping many children with health issues, such as autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, and autism. These conditions can significantly be improved using nutrition. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind as parents when we’re thinking of implementing nutritional changes for our children. Simply put, a slow and strategic approach is key.
When I started down the path of helping my child improve his health through nutrition, I wanted to make the transition as easy as possible because he was so young. I knew that implementing dietary changes too aggressively can discourage children and cause eating disorders, so I wanted to make sure he would still be able to enjoy foods and not feel overwhelmed.
Regardless of the diet you choose to implement, consider using the following approaches to prevent the dietary battles and stress that can come along with changes like these.
Use an Incremental Approach
Children will likely respond better if they are introduced to new foods in smaller increments rather than being forced into a drastic dietary change all at once. Try to refrain from making any aggressive dietary changes, and instead break things up into smaller chunks to prevent overwhelm. For example, if you implement the AIP protocol, you might have to shift the way you transition by using a slow and steady approach. I see the most success when children are introduced to new foods slowly over time, so they become comfortable enough to consume the foods freely long term.
Another reason to use a more incremental approach is that it allows you time to monitor for changes. Children typically don’t recognize the connection between a particular food and a negative or positive reaction. When you use an incremental approach, you can keep track of the foods more easily, noticing any negative or positive reactions. Monitoring is an essential part of the process as you transition and using an incremental approach will help you pinpoint things better.
When transitioning your child, remember you know your child best and should use your judgment in the implementation process. It’s okay to customize how you transition your child and use the method you feel will lead to success.
Make Food Fun
Children tend to lose interest in food quickly, which often leads to a decrease in appetite and food intake. Your child may respond better to food if presented creatively and made into different shapes or designs. Just like how adults love trying appealing foods, the same applies to your child! Your child will be more interested in foods that look enticing to their eyes.
Also, many kids respond better when you allow them to participate in cooking whenever possible. You might find that your child is more willing to try the foods they help cook. Making food fun and allowing your child to participate actively can help make transitioning easier.
Incorporate Familiar Foods
When starting a new diet, it can be helpful to include some familiar foods. This will significantly help your child to feel more comfortable when transitioning. Presenting your child with at least some familiar foods can be a great way to make the process less overwhelming. If you’re starting the AIP protocol, for example, you might want to have some familiar foods available in the beginning, so your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Eventually they will be introduced to new foods, but having some familiar foods in the beginning can be a great way to help them feel comfortable with the change.
Don’t Make Changes During Stressful Times
Like adults, children don’t like making many changes all at once. Children are particularly susceptible to stress, and some children tend to calm themselves by using food as a coping mechanism. When you’re trying to change your child’s eating habits, you should avoid doing so when you know your child will be under stress.
For example, if your child is starting anything new that will require time to adjust, you should hold off on trying to implement any significant dietary changes. Try to transition when your child is relaxed and in a period of predictable routine. This will allow your child to be better equipped to handle the dietary changes you plan to implement.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Having an open dialogue with your children is crucial in helping them understand the benefits of what you’re trying to achieve through dietary changes. Children respond better to positive reinforcement when it comes to dietary changes. Your child should be praised for what they’re doing right rather than criticized for what they’re doing wrong.
Kid’s often remember criticism longer than they do compliments, which means that they may end up wanting to revert back to their old eating habits if you’re not careful. Your child is more likely to continue with the dietary changes if they’re encouraged multiple times throughout the process.
Encourage your child to taste foods they’re unfamiliar with while reminding them that it’s okay if they don’t like a new food. Praising your child for simply tasting new food and not being shamed if they don’t enjoy it will encourage them to keep trying other foods.
Remain Patient and Consistent
Children also need time to adjust to new foods. It may take your child longer than usual to accept new foods, but if the new food is presented with a positive attitude and consistent manner, your child will eventually learn to accept it.
Your child can also learn to like new foods by playing fun games with the new foods. A great game for younger children is the “Clean Plate Club”. Your child will be encouraged to finish everything on their plate because if they do, they get a reward.
Remember that having patience and being consistent will make your child more compliant with whatever dietary changes you are implementing.
Discuss the Dietary Changes Before Implementing Them
Children should be included in the discussion of nutritional changes as much as possible. This applies to children old enough to understand what you are trying to achieve. If they participate in the discussion around these changes, your child will feel included and acknowledged, but if they don’t know what’s going on, they may feel left out and become defensive.
Children also like to take ownership of situations which you can use to your advantage. Parents should explain the dietary changes to their children so that they feel included in the process and are less likely to be feisty about taking part in them.
So, Why Make Dietary Changes for Your Children?
Simply put, the power of nutrition can work miracles. Children experiencing health problems may greatly benefit from nutritional therapy, and parents can consider dietary changes as a foundational piece towards helping their children gain a better quality of life. It’s important to remember, however, that your child is an integral part of any dietary change. Remain patient, consistent, and positive throughout the process. By following the advice listed above, you can help make nutritional changes a smooth and easy process for both you and your child.
If you’re still struggling after trying a few different methods, it might be a good idea to consult with a nutrition therapist who can help you and your child with the transition. They will be able to provide personalized advice based on your child’s specific situation and needs.