Child & Adolescent Nutrition 101

Early childhood and adolescent nutrition is a lost educational opportunity in many sectors. There are a few ways to approach the introduction of foods to a child at an early age for them to develop a healthy relationship with food from birth. Here are a few of my tips I give to parents and adolescents to help them shape a healthy relationship with foods and their bodies.

Remember to include a variety of foods on the plate.

Whether color, textures, flavors, or nutritional components (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, additional micronutrient rich foods like fruits/vegetables).

Remember to not ‘force’ your child to eat just because it’s a designated ‘meal’ time.

Provide them with a variety of foods on a plate and trust and nurture the idea that when your child is hungry they will get to the food that has been prepared and plated for them.

Allow your child to have at least 10 exposures to a food before deciding that they don’t ‘like’ it.

Research from the American Journal of clinical nutrition shows increased acceptability of foods after 8-10 of repetitive exposure. Just because your child doesn’t like a food the first time they try it, doesn’t mean they actually don’t like it, it may be that they have never experienced that flavor, texture, smell, etc, and will develop tolerance to it over time.

Mirror a healthy relationship with food yourself (inclusion of all foods).

Children heavily rely on learning cues from adults and older siblings, so your relationship with foods and the terminology you use around foods (good v bad foods) molds your child’s view of food too.

Secondary to childhood, adolescence is a time in which a child’s relationship to food and their bodies’ can be highly sensitive. And the education surrounding adolescent nutrition is heavily laced with dieting messages, which promote the development of disorder eating, eating disorders, low self-esteem, low self-worth, etc. Society relies heavily on media (social, TV, ads, magazines, etc.) to give our kids the information that they need in regards to caring for themselves well and making sure they know why food is important. Hard facts are that they get incredibly misinformative information that is entrenched  in what we know as DIET CULTURE. 

DIET CULTURE is known to be a system of beliefs that worship ideals surrounding thinness, equating it to moralistic virtues of more acceptability, love, and overall worth, regardless of true health status/vitals. 

Diet Culture gives very sneaky messages surrounding food holding moralistic weight/value. In the most general sense, food serves the purpose to nourish and nurture growth and development in adolescence. Engagement in dieting behaviors, can increase risk for malnutrition, delayed development/growth, and bone fractures/breakage. 

Here’s some ‘go-to’ basic nutritional information surrounding the value of all foods: 

Carbohydrates (no matter the source-whether ‘refined/white’ or whole grains): are broken down by the body and converted to glucose (blood sugar) to help cells have the energy needed to send signals to different parts of the body for functioning; Provide the brain exclusively with the energy it needs to think and process information clearly and effectively; Provides energy for organ/organ systems to run at optimal capacity.

Proteins (no matter if it’s higher or lower in fat content): Provides energy for muscle, cell, and tissue repair, growth, and regeneration (creation). 

Fats (no matter the source-whether saturated (animal sources) or unsaturated (plant sources): Provide energy for body temperature regulation; energy needed for absorption of vitamins & minerals; energy needed for protection of vital organs; energy needed to facilitate hormone balance (develops in adolescence-estrogen, progesterone, testosterone).  

For additional resources and materials surrounding Childhood & Adolescent Nutrition from an Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES) lens, check out:

Books:

Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens: A Non-Diet, Body Positive Approach to Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

By: Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

Born to Eat 

By: Leslie Schilling & Wendy Jo Peterson

Celebrate Your Body (and its changes, too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls

By: Sonya Renee Taylor

Videos:

Poodle Science

Research on Food Exposures:

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/issue/109/Supplement_1

Written By: Tess M Patterson MS RD LD