Nurture: How To Raise Kids Who Love Food, Their Bodies, And Themselves | Heidi Shauster | Momcave LIVE

Heidi Shauster

Welcome to MomCave LIVE, the place where sanity takes a vacation, but our laughter refuses to check out! Today, we’re diving headfirst into a topic that’s as mysterious as finding matching socks in the laundry – kids’ nutrition. Brace yourselves, because we’ve got the brilliant Heidi Schauster, author of Nurture: How To Raise Kids Who Love Food Their Bodies And Themselves, on board, ready to sprinkle some wisdom on the chaos that is our attempt at feeding the tiny humans in our lives.

Jen:  Welcome to MomCave LIVE where we may have lost our minds, but we haven’t lost our sense of humor. I’m Jen, and I have a really fun guest. That’s not only fun but informative for you today, and I hope you guys will take advantage of all of her expertise. Welcome, Heidi.

Heidi Schauster:  Thank you so much for having me, Jen.

What Food is Healthy Food?

Jen:  You are very welcome. Heidi sent me an email a while back. It took us a while to connect because, Oh, my God, kids’ schedules, school life. But what caught my eye in Heidi’s email was in the subject line. Kids need to eat processed foods. I was both thrilled and mystified so I want to start there as a jumping-off point, I feel like my family doesn’t eat healthy enough. I love food so much, and everything that I love is not that healthy. That’s how it is in our house. I always feel guilty about that. Maybe you have a reason that will help the rest of us out there not feel so guilty. Why do kids need to eat processed foods, Heidi?

Heidi Schauster:  Well, first of all, unless you’re going into your backyard and growing all the grain and milking the cow, just about everything that we eat is processed.

No Good or Bad Foods

Heidi Schauster:  There’s this idea that we should avoid processed food. A lot of it is born from this sense that there’s a moral imperative around what we eat. I think we need to be careful about that. We have to be careful about it with ourselves as adults, but also, particularly with kids, this idea that there are good foods and there are bad foods, I think can be dangerous for young people because it sets up a system where they’re thinking about food in their minds, as opposed to feeling it in their bodies and working and approaching eating with self-regulation. Instead of this more brain kind of way of thinking about food. That’s where I’m coming from.

Jen:  You and my husband, would get along so well because whenever somebody says anything about processed foods, he goes on this round. He’s like, “Everything is processed. If you pick this, it’s processed, you put it in a box, it’s processed.” Of course, sometimes I think that’s our excuse for eating more processed foods.

Balanced Foods

Heidi Schauster:  I’m a big fan of gardening, farming, supporting the local economy, and supporting local farmers taking care of our soils. I’m certainly the first person to appreciate food in its purest form. That said, life happens, and we still need to eat. Convenience is there for a reason, it’s certainly much better putting food on the table that’s balanced and processed, whether somebody helps you out and chops those vegetables or not, or you do it yourself, you’re still serving good food for your family.

I just think this demonizing of processed food can be insidious and dangerous. It gives this message that some foods are good, and some foods are bad. I want kids to feel very neutral about food. In terms of how to do that it’s to not give food those kinds of labels around kids so that they can make choices from a more internal place. Regulation as opposed to other people telling them what to eat or not eat, which they may or may not rebel against too,

A Little Reverse Psychology

Jen: That’s what I was thinking as you were saying that it’s a little reverse psychology thing with kids if they know I want them to eat broccoli, but they don’t want to eat broccoli.

Heidi Schauster: If don’t want them to eat certain things they may crave them as well. My kids are now in college. When my daughters were growing up, their friends who were from sugar-free households would always come over and raid our cabinets because sugar was not off-limits in my house, whereas my kids didn’t have a lot of charge around those kinds of foods at all. I think there’s something to be said for neutralizing and making food just not a moralistic piece around it.

Jen:  Say we can successfully neutralize all feelings about food in the household. Well, how do we get them to eat the good ones?

Diversity is Important

Heidi Schauster:  I hear you. I’m a nutritionist, I trained in nutrition science, and I understand kind of how the body works. One of the things though, when I went to nutrition school, many decades ago, that I thought was so useful to me at the time, partly because I was recovering from my eating disorder, was that all the food that we eat breaks down into these basic building blocks that our body can use.

It doesn’t matter whether you get it from pasta, bread, or fruit, or all of the carbohydrates that we eat break down to glucose, and then our body uses it, our cells use it. There is something kind of comforting and learning about the actual science, around nutrition and realizing that we don’t have to be so particular about what we eat, our body can take care of that. We do get more vitamins and beautiful phytochemicals that are good for our health, from colorful things, like vegetables for example. Then we also need nutrients that are in all the foods that are options for us. Diversity is best for the body. We’re learning now as we learn more about the microbiome and our gut health.

Food is Meant to be Pleasurable

Diversity is important for our guts, too. It’s hard to not have moral language like good or bad around food because that’s how we’ve trained. I’m working on untraining. To think about food much more neutrally, both to prevent problems like disordered eating and binge eating. Kids and teens can start to exhibit that’s my field of study, but also so that we can enjoy food.
Food is meant to be pleasurable, and broccoli is pretty yummy when you put it in a nice sauce that enhances the flavor. I think that like if we can approach food with excitement, and enjoyment, look how colorful it is, look how interesting this diverse plate is, then I think that we’re going to, we’re going to encourage that diversity in our kids eating more too.

Flavor is Key

Jen:  There is so much in the preparation. I hated vegetables pretty much until adulthood because in our house, mostly it was like you took a can of green beans and heated them. My grandmother added a beef bouillon cube to her green beans. That was high cuisine in our house. When your vegetables are just “blah” you’re not going to love them.

When I got older, I started going to restaurants and experiencing that you can have amazing green beans, brussels sprouts, or broccoli, depending on how they’re prepared. My little one is in love with truffle salt, we put truffle salt on our vegetables. That’s a good one, I love that you have your background and all of your accreditations and all of the research in the learning that you’ve done, but you’ve also had some personal experience in this whole field. I was wondering if you could tell people what are some of the signs you look for. To detect disordered eating early in children? What might you see that would make you have a cause for concern?

How to Detect Disordered Eating?

Heidi Schauster:  It’s a great question. I would be concerned about a child who seems very obsessed with food. I don’t mean that they enjoy food. Food is meant to be a pleasure, but if they seem so preoccupied with it that they’re talking about it all the time, or even researching it all the time. Also, if a child or teen shows evidence of hiding food, perhaps there’s some shame around their eating, which would be useful to know about.

If there are wrappers hidden and things like that, it’s worth asking about that, it might just be that they like to hang out in their bed cave and with their book but sometimes there’s shame in eating, maybe they are teased about their body. When they want to eat something yummy, they feel compelled to do it in secret.

Food as a Soother

That could be a sign that maybe something is going on in the relationship with food potentially, or that food is a soother significantly, we all eat emotionally. If we eat birthday cake we eat emotionally. If it seems like food is a reward or a soother, that may be a learned behavior, perhaps from other family members or peers. But something to watch. Show extra love and concern when you see someone’s relationship with food might be going a little off.

Where Can We Find Help?

Jen:  If a parent is concerned, where do they go? Do they visit the pediatrician? Who do you go to? Where do you start?

Heidi Schauster:  That’s a good question. There’s no right answer to that one. Unfortunately, if you’re concerned that your child is either not fueling themselves well with food or their relationship with food could be troubled. Certainly, you could bring that up with a pediatrician. It’s always good to get a sense if they’re dropping off of their normal growth pattern.

That’s a little bit of an alert and there are therapists, psychotherapists, and nutrition therapists like myself, who specialize in working with kids and with disordered eating, that can be consulted. Often, if the child is under 12, the parents will just come in for a consultation because it’s sometimes you don’t want to give too much attention to the issue. If the child’s over 12, then they might be worked with individually as well since they’re starting to make some of their own decisions about food, and their autonomy shifts in their adolescence.

Health At Every Size

Those are the people available, but I would look for professionals who have a “Health At Every Size” orientation, or a haes, “H A E S” orientation, which means that they are specifically oriented to not shaming individuals around their body because some, some young people are just designed to be larger bodies than others. I think we have to be careful about weight stigma and health care. I’ll just put that out there.

Jen:  That kind of segues into my last question for you, you were just talking about autonomy. As the kids get a little older, how much autonomy should we give younger children in what they have to eat or are allowed to eat? How do we give them some autonomy, but make sure that they’re healthy?

Nurture Book Cover

When to Let Kids Choose for Themselves

Heidi Schauster:  Super great question. It’s such a hard one. I have a lot of compassion around this topic, because I raised two young women now, as well. I think I love “Ellyn Satter’s, Division of Responsibility”, he says that the role of the parents is to make a diverse amount of healthy food available, and the role of the child is to eat it. It’s pretty straightforward when we start crossing into the lane of the child and start telling them what to eat or how much to eat or don’t have that or do have that. Then we’re crossing a boundary there that ultimately, our goal is to make good food available to put on the table, or their plate.

As they get older, I’m a big fan of having kids sort of self-select from what’s on the table, like family style, as much as possible. They can learn to self-regulate and kind of get connected to their appetite more. In general, having things available is the parents‘ role or the caregivers’ role, and eating is the kids’ role. In reality, in developed countries, the kids don’t starve. If a child doesn’t eat well, at one meal, they’re likely to make that up at the next meal or snack period.

Don’t Panic

So we don’t have to panic, it’s better if we can be pretty chill at the table and let them do some self-selecting of how much of the things to eat. It’s always great to make suggestions and say, it took me a long time to like carrots. Let’s give them a try again tonight. Your battles don’t get into a huge battle with kids about it. Sometimes they need to try things. I think my intern, when we were doing research for my new book, looked at all the research. She found that it was somewhere between 13 and 30 times, they needed to try food. A lot of times, they are more cautious than others, just naturally, exposure is important.

Doritos Delicious snack vs bananas

Jen:  I get how it works for meals because I’m a big, like, “Well, this is what we’re having for dinner. This. I don’t like this. Well, this is what we’re having for dinner” kind of person, and as you said, I never worry if they don’t eat; then they’ll eat more tomorrow. But it’s the snacks that get me because when we’re talking about what’s available, like, I want to have Doritos available in the house. Because I want to have those later when I’m watching TV. But if those are available in the house, my kids are never going to pick the banana to eat. What do you do?

Doritos Are Good Too

Heidi Schauster:  I’m a big fan of having the bananas and the Doritos, letting them select what they’re into. Maybe sometimes the Doritos aren’t available because they ran out, and they try something different. And then they realize, “Oh, I liked this snack food better.”

I’m a big fan of it, especially if it’s something that you like to eat. At some point, someone will come downstairs and be like, “Mom’s eating the Doritos. Why does she say I can’t eat?” If you’re going to have a food rule, you kind of have to have it so the whole family follows. There’s absolutely nothing wrong. Doritos aren’t usually craved that much unless they’re seen as being like a special thing that we only get once in a while. In general, food loses its charge when it is more neutral.

Check Out Heidi’s New Book!

Jen:  That’s a great way of thinking about it. I appreciate that. Heidi’s book called Nurture: How to Raise Kids Who Love Food, Their Bodies, and Themselves is available now. You can also find Heidi @nourishingwords in all the places! Thanks for sharing your nourishing words with me. I’m going to think of you as I go and prepare something healthy for lunch. And I’ll save my Doritos for tonight. Thank you so much. If you have any more questions for Heidi, you can feel free to put them in the comments. And this will be here for everybody to refer to.

Good luck with the book.

It’s amazing. And thank you for talking with me.

Heidi Schauster:  Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Jen:  You’re so welcome. Thanks.

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