A Hungry Sitter’s Guide to Healthy Feeding

August 6, 2012

hungry sitter feeding kids

Another post from our babysitter who we’ve lovingly dubbed ‘The Hungry Sitter.’ Think you have all the answers because you’re the parent? The HS thinks otherwise. Agree?

Picture this: A health-conscious, organic-buying, veggie-crunching sitter walks into a hot dog and boxed mac and cheese household. Sound like a nightmare? I wish that I could say it was only a bad dream but, unfortunately, as a seasoned childcare provider, I can tell you that it’s not. This has happened to me way more that I would have ever predicted, especially given that I’ve had the fortune of working with fabulous parents who are, themselves, healthy eaters.

So what gives?!

After all these years of caring for kids, I’m still not exactly sure. Though I’m not yet a parent, I know that feeding children is hard. I also know that lots of factors can make mealtime complicated: age, schedules, food sensitivities, varying sibling habits and, well, the list goes on. Every family is different, but I’ve noticed one thing in common across all of them: mealtime with mom and dad is emotional.

Feeding a picky child is always easier for me than it is for his parents. The emotional and power dynamics are just not the same. Maybe there’s something to learn from that? I wish I had a “works every time” answer, but I don’t. That said, I believe that there are some useful takeaways from my experiences feeding reluctant eaters. Here are a few things that I’ve learned so far that I hope give you valuable perspective.

Get on the same page!
The key to success is consistency across all regular caretakers. It may not be a big deal when grandpa shows up every other weekend with a candy bar, but everyone taking care of your child on a regular basis should reinforce the same healthy rules.

This will not only make mealtime easier for everyone (especially your child), it also sends a message about rules and respect. Feeding other people’s children comes with major challenges and sitters need to have kiddo’s respect to successfully enforce healthy rules. Your child needs to know that you have your sitter’s back.

Let the most successful feeder take the lead.
If a sitter you trust has an easier time getting your child to eat well then take her lead! She’s probably coming at it from a caring, but less emotional and more practical place. Think about how you might be able to do the same. Or if you can’t—if it’s just too hard for whatever reason—ask her to set the rules (e.g., no snacking after 3 pm, eat all your veggies before getting a 2nd helping of anything else on your plate). Following your sitter’s rules might help keep you on track as much as the kids, which just might make dinnertime easier.

Be a role model.
One of the most amazing parts of taking care of kids is how much they love and trust us. We can use that to help establish healthier habits. Kids will mimic the behaviors of the people they look up to. What do you like to eat? What does your sitter like to eat? Find out and keep her healthy choices around so that everyone who takes care of your child is modeling healthy eating.

Give kids what they want… your way!
Kids like kids food. This is not rocket science, but figuring out how to break the pizza and chicken fingers habit sure can feel like it. It’s hard to do! So, I say that if you can’t beat them, join them.

What is it that we don’t like about kids food? They are typically high in salt, fat, and sugar, made with artificial ingredients, low in nutritional value… et cetera, et cetera. If you make kiddo’s favorite food at home with whole ingredients, though, you get the best of both worlds. Your child can still have the foods that they enjoy most and you feel better because you’re not feeding them garbage. I know it’s not everyone’s approach—and I’m not suggesting that you should do this meal after meal—but it helps build trust with the kids, which is especially important from a sitter’s perspective.

Lighten up!
Make rules, stick with them, get on the same page… it all sounds so serious. And it is but, strangely, once you do these things, it allows you to lighten up a bit. You can rely on and point to the rules when things start to go south at the table. No need to get your panties in a knot over and over… and over. That’s the emotional part that I’ve found is easier for me to avoid than for parents. I give homemade chicken fingers some days, order out for pizza others, and serve up healthy meals the rest of the time. The kids I watch can eat what they want and be excused when they don’t want to eat—either way, I know that I’ve done my job well. You should feel the same way, too.

– The Hungry Sitter

Useful tips? Has your sitter taught you anything about feeding kids? Tell us!

3 Responses

  1. Sasha says:

    Yeah, kids eat better for other people. I’ll never understand it. At least the ‘habit’ food in our house is largely hummus, grapes, and cheddar cheese. You could do worse. It does help just not having hotdogs and KD in the house, but you do need something that you can just throw on their plate. Dinner times can be crazy!

  2. One Hungry Mama says:

    it’s so true that no having certain foods in the house is key. it’s also true that having some “emergency” foods is key, too. we have a local place that makes all natural frozen ravioli. i always have them on hand, along with those maya kimel indian simmer sauces.

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