Children, Food and School… Are there any simple strategies?

Children, Food and School… Are there any simple strategies?

14 February 2020

Establishing healthy eating patterns with children as they enter school can be really challenging. While school can bring a welcome routine for families, it can also bring stress and anxiety at either end of the day – and this in itself can make it difficult for children to eat. Potentially bearing this in mind – that stress and anxiety can have a huge impact on a child’s willingness or ability to eat – can be really helpful for parents to remember. If we can keep mealtimes calm, then kids are more likely to eat. But if we are hurried and trying to force out kids to eat, then it can discourage them to eat because it makes them more anxious.

For a moment, just think about times where you have felt anxious or nervous. Have you wanted to eat?


One of the basic ideas that is really helpful for parents in reducing anxiety in feeding their kids is The Division of Responsibility, developed by Ellyn Satter. This philosophy helps parents take leadership with the what, where, and when of feeding, and allows kids to determine the how much and even whether to eat of what you’ve provided.


The basics of the Division of Responsibility include:

The parent’s jobs are to:

  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Make eating times pleasant.
  • Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
  • Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
  • Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
  • Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.

Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .  

  • Eat the amount he needs.
  • Learn to eat the food you eat.
  • Grow predictably in the way that is right for him. 
  • Learn to behave well at mealtime. 


When it comes to Family meals that perhaps aren’t working so well, it can be helpful to focus on a few key things:

  1. Change the HOW of family meals first; worry about the what later
    1. Start with regular meals and snacks using the foods you are eating now
    2. Eat food you enjoy to eat – don’t try fancy food, just food you enjoy, that is simple, easy, nourishing
    3. All foods are ok – pizza, spaghetti bolognaise, nuggets, canned peaches…. Just arrange to have them ready at mealtimes so you can ALL sit down together as a family. Modelling eating together is so valuable for your children
    4. You can put all the food in the middle of the table and allow your kids to choose what they want. The priority is having a structured mealtime, i.e. meals together as a family at the table, at a set time
  2. Use snacks to support mealtime
    1. Snacks should be limited to set times between meals so that children can be hungry at the main meal. There can’t be free access to snacks otherwise children will not be hungry at the main meal
    2. The only fluid available should be water or milk
    3. Consider snacks to be little meals, not just treats
    4. Do include treats such as biscuits and chips at meals and snacks on occasions – don’t try and go without them


Importantly, avoid pressure with eating and mealtimes. Children are fantastic at self-regulating their intake. They intuitively know when they are full and can stop eating. If we override this, kids stop trusting their hunger and fullness cues and it can lead to overeating issues in later life.

This can be really hard for parents, especially those of us brought up to “finish all on our plates”. But we live in a world of plentiful food, so we can allow our kids to trust their innate wisdom when it comes to food, and we don’t need to tempt them with the reward of dessert just to finish their dinner (or any other meal). This just serves to alter their relationship with food further and make them think that dessert and sweets is the most important thing.


For some more information on establishing good eating relationships in children, or help with fussy eating see:


How to Help Your Child With Separation Anxiety

How to Help Your Child With Separation Anxiety

7 February 2020

  1. Have a routine
  • Work out a goodbye routine with your child and stick to it. Use something like 3 kisses, 2 cuddles and a wave.
  • Reinforce that you will be returning to collect them and when that will be.
  • Use a consistent approach of attentive (but brief) goodbyes and happy reunions.
  • Prolonging the goodbye increases the child’s separation anxiety. Be patient and manage your own anxiety or frustration about drop offs and separating from your child. Access your own supports and look after yourself as well.
  • Routine applies to before school as well – if mornings are stressful, school drop offs will be as well. Plan and prepare beforehand as much as you can (eg make lunches and pack schoolbags, get uniforms ready the night before).
  • Make time in the morning for your child. Help to fill their bucket by giving them some special Mum/Dad time before school.
  • Don’t mind the hiccups, sometimes there will be progress and something might make them go backwards for a day or two. That is ok!
  • Stick to what they are supposed to be doing eg. going to school, going to bed. Be kind but firm and don’t give in. Allowing your child to avoid school will only make their anxiety grow.
  • Ask a familiar adult (eg grandma/pa) to take them to school. The separation might not be so intense for them.


  1. Talk about anxiety
  • Explain how it is normal to feel anxious and that we all experience anxiety sometimes. Anxiety can do a really great job of keeping us safe when we are in danger, but sometimes it gets a little carried away and tries to do it’s job even when we aren’t in danger, and that just makes us feel yukky.
  • Listen to your child and validate their feelings in a calm manner without judgement. Never belittle their feelings.
  • Identify anxiety for what it is – remember that you have to name it to tame it. Relate your child’s thoughts, physical feelings and behaviours to their experience of anxiety so they can start to make the connections themselves.
  • Try to encourage your child to challenge their thoughts safely. What evidence is there? Is this likely or unlikely to happen? What is the best case, worst case and most likely scenario?
  • Focus on instances that your child has been able to separate positively. Talk about how well they coped, what exciting things they did whilst you were away, how it felt to reunite again. Reinforce that they did it then and they can do it now.
  • Teach positive self-talk by saying something like: “Some kids find it helps to say, ‘I can have fun at school even when I miss my Daddy.” Or, “It’s ok to feel sad and mad about saying goodbye. I can handle it.” Or “My Mummy/Daddy’s love is with me wherever I go.”
  • Read books that normalise their experience and provide helpful ideas that you can adopt with and for your child. Try ‘The Invisible String’, ‘What to Do When You Worry Too Much’, ‘The Huge Bag of Worries’, ‘The Kissing Hand’ and ‘Llama Llama Misses Mama’.


  1. Use strategies
  • Give your child something of yours that they can keep with them during the school day (a transition object). This could be a photo of you, or something that you take halves of, to put back together at the end of the school day.
  • Have an identified and consistent staff member to whom you drop your child in the morning. Take them to the same place each morning, preferably somewhere quiet where your child can be given individual attention. Arriving early at school may help with this.
  • A morning transition group with planned activities can help engage and distract a child.
  • Create a social story: Take your child to school on a day that they don’t actually attend. Take pictures of them every step of the way. Since there is no impending goodbye, there won’t be any drama. Photograph them smiling in the car, smiling in front of the school, walking down the hall holding your hand and standing in the classroom waving a pretend goodbye. Then leave the school, go for a treat and talk about how it felt to go to school so happy. Next, print up the pictures and make a super simple little book with your child’s name in it: For example: “William Goes to School” book.
  • Use visual schedules or timetables so the child knows what will happen throughout the day and when they will see you again. A paper chain link with each link being a period of time can also be useful. The child removes a link until there are none left and then they know they will see their parent.
  • Practice breathing techniques using bubbles or pinwheels, or try Take 5 breathing (using the five fingers to count each breath cycle).
  • Teach your child to relaxation and mindfulness skills. There are many great mindfulness and relaxation apps including ‘Smiling Mind’ and ‘Kinderling’.
  • Having a ‘busy bag’ in each classroom, full of activities. Children who are feeling anxious when they first come into the classroom can use it to occupy and distract themselves until they settle in.
  • Create a toolbox of strategies that you have practised with the child. This can include cards as prompts for breathing exercises, a worry box (for them to write and place their worries into), a worry monster to eat their worries or worry dolls, transition objects or sensory tools for grounding activities.


Mindful eating vs dieting

Mindful eating vs dieting

31 January 2020

The word ‘diet’ is often linked with restrictive eating – no white foods, carbs, no fat – and the list goes on. Unfortunately, such restrictive eating patterns often backfire, creating a destructive role of bad feelings and negativity. Truth is, the word ‘diet’ encompasses all of the food and beverages you ingest, whether healthy or not. So every one of us is on a diet. But not everyone is eating mindfully.


Mindful Eating

Mindful eating anchors you in the moment so you can enjoy your food and eat less. It isn’t about dieting. It’s about eating optimally. A few strategies to help you eat more mindfully:


  1. Take your time: It takes a while for the gut-mind reaction to kick in, so you won’t realize you’re full until about 20 minutes into your meal. Taking your time gives your mind an opportunity to register your body is full. When you eat, take small bites and chew your food completely. You might even consider placing your utensils on the table after each bite.
  2. Beware of mindless munching: Throughout the day, you’re probably faced with plenty of opportunities to eat. Maybe there’s a dish of M&Ms on your colleague’s desk or you nibble on your child’s leftover food while doing the dishes. One way to avoid those traps: Write down everything you put in your mouth before you eat it. Once you see it in black and white, you’re more likely to avoid dietary landmines.
  3. Focus on your food: Before opening the refrigerator or cupboard, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” “What am I craving?” The answer might surprise you. If you’re not hungry consider going for a walk or reading a book. If you are, use all of your senses to decide which foods will satisfy and nourish you. Before you take a bite, notice the crunch of your carrot, the colour of the broccoli and the smell of seasonings wafting under your nose.
  4. Eat at a table: Instead of eating in your car, at your desk or while riding public transport, sit down at table. Not only does this cue your mind that it’s time to eat, it also helps you relax and enjoy your food.
  5. Make it a ritual: Before you eat, put your phone in flight mode, shut down your computer and turn off the TV. Then, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Say a grace, hold hands with your tablemates or just silently thank the people responsible for the food on your plate. Whatever you choose, take a few minutes to appreciate the food in front of you.



If your goal is to permanently lose weight, a traditional diet that cuts out entire food groups may be the worst option. Sure, dieting can help you drop kilos. But the all-or-nothing mentality sets a lot of people up for failure. Indeed, studies show that most people can’t stick to a diet for long. If they do, they’re likely to eventually regain most (if not all) of the lost weight 


So instead of setting a goal to “lose weight”, set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals that are realistic and tailored for you. For example:


  • Specific: Lose 15 pounds (6.8 kilos)
  • Measureable: Record your weight at least weekly to check progress and notice any trends
  • Attainable: One pound (0.45 kilos) each week is a reasonable goal
  • Relevant: It’s a step towards improving your health
  • Time-bound: You’ll do this for six months and then assess what you’d like to tackle next

Whether you’re dieting or eating or eating mindfully, setbacks are part of the process. When they happen, ask yourself what worked, what got in the way, what you’d do differently next time and what you did right. Stick with the strategies that worked and be prepared to try different strategies next time.


Article by Patricia Jurek (RD, MBA) published in the Detroit Free Press in July 2015. Patricia Jurek is a registered dietician and manages Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s Center for Weight Management. Some words have been changed from an American to an Australia context e.g. flight mode instead of airplane mode and kilos instead of pounds.


Contact the friendly team at MHC if you would like to know more about Mindful Eating.

The ‘non-diet’ approach, JUST EAT IT!

The ‘non-diet’ approach, JUST EAT IT!

24 January 2020

It’s that time of the year when everyone is working on their ‘New Year’ resolutions… Would you believe going on a ‘diet’ or getting ‘fit’ to lose weight is at the top of everyone’s list AGAIN… YET AGAIN!

Going into 2020 I felt like I had to sit down and really take the time to create SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Reliable and Timely) goals for myself. AND yes, I am one of those millions of people with getting fit is at the top of their list, along with winning the lotto. BUT having a small family I wanted to do this in a positive way to be a role model for my children. I didn’t want to be sitting down at the dinner table drinking a shake while my family enjoy a bowl of delicious pasta. Who doesn’t want to enjoy twirling and slurping up pasta?!?! And when I truly think about it how many diets I have been on in the past and if I’m honest with myself how long did it last, once the 12 week challenge was completed, I would fall off the band wagon, YET AGAIN.


SO, 2020 it’s time for a change! Intuitive eating let’s make peace with food.


The light bulb moment of why it was a no brainer that I started tunning back into my body’s inner wisdom on how to truly nourish myself. Let’s free up some well-deserved space in our lives for BIGGER and BETTER things, like family, happiness and love.

Check out our very own nutritionist and dietitian Helen Barnett’s website for some life changing information and join me in a BIGGER and BETTER 2020 loving and enjoying FOOD.



Joyful Movement

Joyful Movement

17 January 2020

In the Non-diet approach "exercise" is called different things. One of the names I love is "Joyful Movement". This encapsulates the idea that we can find activities that we love, that make our bodies feel alive, energised, vital. Often people feel that to lose weight they must exercise, do XXX calories per day at the gym, coupled with restricting food calories. But in most cases these regimes leave them feeling exhausted, depleted and demotivated because all their hard work is not translating to weight loss on the scales.

Many clients say to me - "I'm eating XX calories and exercising XX hours per day, yet haven't lost weight (or have only lost XX kgs)" or "I regained it straight away once I went on holidays/ over the weekend when I had family over/went back to normal eating...

This is because the bodies natural response to severe restriction of calories is to go into starvation mode - that is - to slow down all bodily process to conserve energy.

Hair stops growing, finger nails stop growing, you won't make neurotransmitters so you won't be in a good mood, your energy will be low because your body will give the little energy you have to keeping your heart muscle pumping (after all - we want it to keep pumping and it goes non-stop regardless of us choosing what activities we do. i.e. We can choose to walk around, but we may not have much energy for our leg muscles to walk around - yet our heart still has to keep pumping - our body will direct energy to our heart preferentially and not to our leg muscles).

Our brain needs a constant supply of glucose (around 120g per day just to function), so if we don't get this from the diet, we will start to make glucose - but we make glucose from protein, and we usually make glucose from stored muscle. We can only eat so much protein per day, so weight loss often comes from muscle loss - which really is the last thing we want to lose, because after we break the diet we now have less muscle (AKA, metabolically active tissue or, the tissue in our body that burns energy), so we end up having a slower metabolic rate. It is one of the main reasons we put on weight quickly after the end of a diet (and often more).

Severe calorie restriction sends messages to our thyroid that we are in "starvation" so we start producing less thyroid hormone - slowing down our metabolic rate as well - we may not end up with clinical hypothyroidism, but we definitely slow down our thyroids. This completely makes sense from a survival perspective - through the ages we've experienced so many famines and as a species we would have been wiped out had we not been able to slow down our metabolisms somehow. It's just not helpful for us now!

The non-diet approach is an approach that teaches normalised eating. It is definitely supportive of weight loss - but in a gentle, realistic and sustainable way.

Sadly the biggest risk factor for developing an eating disorder is dieting, and the most common eating disorder is Binge Eating Disorder. At the heart of Binge Eating Disorder lies dietary restriction. I truly believe that if we are going to seriously, genuinely and compassionately help people with weight issues (that may also include eating disorders) we need to be honest about a number of things:

* Weight stigma in our society

* Acknowledge our own weight biases

* really understand that dieting is detrimental - no matter how you look at a diet - whether it be fasting, restricting a food group, cutting out whole food groups, limiting foods after certain times, counting calories/points/macronutrients.... A diet is a diet is a diet...!!

* start to think about the problem differently (Einstein: definition of insanity - "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results")