Dietitians Dish: Set your child up for success with healthy eating

By Stephanie Whitley
Oct. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

Stephanie Whitley

Stephanie Whitley

Have you ever wondered why some adults can regulate their weight and never go on a diet while many others struggle? According to the Ellyn Satter Institute, our adult eating habits develop from our attitudes toward eating as children.

After a collection of studies and observations in clinical practice, Satter, a renowned registered dietitian in the nutrition world, has been able to put into words how we can help our children become adults with a balanced and positive relationship with food.

The method is based on our natural instincts: "hunger and the drive to survive, appetite and the need for pleasure, the social reward of sharing food and the biological propensity to maintain preferred and stable body weight."

This can be done by giving oneself "the permission to choose enjoyable food and eat it in satisfying amounts" and "the discipline to have regular and reliable meals and snacks and to pay attention when eating them."

Research from the institute has found that people who practice these principles have improved cardiovascular health - specifically, higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower amounts of "sticky plaque" and a decrease in blood pressure. They also tend to have healthier body weights, are more emotionally and socially balanced and they are more trusting of others and comfortable with themselves.

Since habits are formed starting at birth, it is important as a parent to set your child up for success in the area of healthy eating and their relationship with food. The goal is to encourage eating as a positive experience while honoring one's hunger and fullness. For infants, it is the parents' responsibility to provide the "what" while the infants decide the "how much" and "when."

For older babies, the parent is still responsible for the "what" and is starting to dictate the "when" and "where." The baby is still responsible for the how much and whether they eat the food offered. Now that there is a variety of foods to be eaten, this can apply.

For children and adolescents, the parent is still and always responsible for the what, when and where, while the child is still and now always responsible for the how much and whether or not they eat the food.

As the parent, it is important to be strict about your responsibilities. If the child knows that they can have a snack whenever he or she prefers, what is their motivation to eat the usually healthier foods that you provide at appropriate meal times?

Snacks are needed for growing children, however they should be relatively planned; the child does not have to eat the snack provided at the determined "snack time."

If they are not hungry or do not like the food provided, they can wait until the next meal. Though they may become a little extra grouchy, they will survive.

This discipline will communicate to the child that it is their responsibility to fill up at meal times and encourages them to try new foods that you provide and start eating adult foods with the family.

Not to mention, this will make things much easier on the grocery shopper and cook.

After a few afternoons of no snacking because a child is being picky, his or her hunger will drive him or her to eat more at meals and accept new foods.

There are always exceptions, but for the general population, this method has proven to set a strong foundation for reasonable and enjoyable eating and, most importantly, a healthy attitude toward food.

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Stephanie Whitley is a registered and licensed dietitian at DeTar Healthcare System. Send questions or comments to



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