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What’s the Role of the Parent When it Comes to Nutrition

July 8, 2024

What’s the Role of the Parent When it Comes to Nutrition

It’s exciting that the world continues to recognize how important nutrition is in overall physical and mental health and we still have a lot of work to do to ensure the correct information gets to consumers. As a dietitian and a parent there was nothing more exciting to me than when my teenagers started to have an interest in what they were putting in their body to fuel a long day at school, their respective sports, or just eat what they really want to enjoy.  It was also surprising and a little disappointing to me that even though they had an interest it took quite a while for them to be independent with their actions towards nutrition.

Our house had two camps. My camp was that we needed to continue to model appropriate nutrition, purchase the food, and probably make most of it and my husband’s camp was that they’re old enough and need to have more skin in the game. Both can be true, depending on circumstances.

I can sense the same thought process with the parents of my clients regardless of what I am treating them for.  Parents want their kids to take the wheel and most of the time the kids just don’t want to make it a priority.

My advice to parents is to approach it with a growth mindset. It’s normal that your child is not going to completely take their nutrition over and you can start practicing with them to help them get towards independence. 

Here’s some tips to get started:

  1. Get your child involved with planning. What meals are they interested in? What would they like to add to the grocery list? Make this an expectation within the family system for everyone. The more you are consistent with this, the more it will become habitual.
  1. Provide love and support while establishing boundaries. Fuel is necessary and specific for eating disorder and sports nutrition. There’s no room to “skip it.” If your child chooses to skip it, there should be consequences.
  1. Teach them how to cook at a young age. The goal is to get them comfortable in the kitchen and have different experiences with food. As they get more experience they will gain confidence and feel they can take on their nutrition more independently. 
  1. Your child needs to eat breakfast. You should be up with them in the morning before school to help them make this a priority and it should be an expectation.  You can’t expect for them to have good grades, maintain positive relationships, and perform in their sports if you are allowing them to skip their fuel.
  1. Model appropriate habits. Make the food. Eat the vegetables. Avoid talking about diets, fads, and more.  

We’re motivated and exhausted as parents and our responsibility is to guide our children towards the ultimate goal of independence. The work is difficult yet worth it in the end and it’s normal that you may need guidance as a parent.