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I Don't Want To Be the "Food Police!"
What Parents Can Do To Promote Healthier Eating

There have been several inquiries on the recent chats about dealing with "food police" issues, i.e., what to do when children choose not eat either the types or amounts of food you'd prefer. This can be a concern either because of troubles sticking with a set meal plan or because you're just trying to get them to make healthier choices. As promised, here's a brief overview of some basic "NON food police" strategies.
Betty Brackenridge

Experience has shown most parents of kids with diabetes that managing food is often the most constant and frustrating thing you have to deal with. That's not to minimize the other tasks and adjustments that go along with diabetes. It's just an acknowledgement that food issues can come up at any time and that a lot of power struggles can ensue when you try to step between a youngster and his or her appetite. You've probably noticed that forcing food down an unwilling kid doesn't work - even if you DID give that 5 units of Regular 30 minutes ago. And trying to stop a growing 12-year-old from chowing down as he cruises blissfully past the three starches on his dinner meal plan is almost always futile as well.

Here are the basics of a "job description" for helping your child eat more healthfully. They are the best techniques I know.

  1. Recognize and act on this fact - your child with diabetes is not the only one in the family who needs good nutrition. Don't single him or her out for the "punishment" of eating "healthy foods" when you or the other kids are doing other things. This one thing alone can eliminate a lot of arguments.

  2. Get the right foods on the table - the kinds you want your child to eat. Whether you prepare these foods or buy them prepared, have a variety out there at every meal whenever possible. No fuss. No muss. No big sell job. Just make it the way things happen at your house.

  3. Eat what you want your kids to eat. Children learn food preferences the way the learn their native language and their values: by example and repetition. NOT by edict. Healthy eating for your child with diabetes doesn't differ from what's healthy for everyone around the table. You might try to think of the diabetes as a chance to help improve everyone's health - not just the child with diabetes.

  4. Make family meals peaceful, regular and important. Mealtimes should not be a battle ground. Demonstrate reasonable food choices and good manners yourself so your children can learn these things the easy way. Diabetes brings craziness into the family circle. Quiet meals together can be a big shield to everyone's peace of mind. Given the realities of everyone's hectic lives, this probably won't happen every day in a lot of households. But if you can make it a priority on a regular basis, it may have an overall calming effect, not only on food struggles but on other issues as well.

  5. Stay in charge, even when the fur starts to fly. You choose the food and get it on the table. You expect everybody to behave like civilized folks - big and little. And, when you do, kids will sometimes challenge your choices and your rules. That's true whether they have diabetes or not. Be calm and stick to your guns. It's not helpful to the family or the child to let short term concerns about blood sugar disrupt the reassuring and predictable flow of family love and discipline.

  6. Learn the tools to manage normal fluctuations in appetite. Static insulin doses and set meal plans are terribly difficult to manage. Not impossible, mind you. But difficult. Learn the tools like carbohydrate management, the tricks of snacks, and insulin adjustment so that you can go with the ebb and flow of appetite and mood. This is the knowledge you need to let kids be kids.

I hope this answers a few questions. To learn more about "food police" problems, try my book Sweet Kids. It has a much more complete treatment of the subject. Also, plan to join us for the "I Don't Want To Be the Food Police" chat on Monday evening, November 6 in the Food Matters chat room at 9pm Eastern.

2 November 2000

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Last Updated: Thursday August 29, 2002 21:04:28
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