Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Food for Thought: Helping Your Child on a Special Diet Eat Right

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Food for Thought: Helping Your Child on a Special Diet Eat Right

Article excerpt

Persuading a child to eat different and nutritious foods, whether or not the child has special health care needs, can be an exhausting and frustrating experience. However, you can help your child develop positive attitudes about nutritious foods.

Children learn best by example. Remember, your child wants to be like you. If the child sees you eating more salads, fruits and vegetables, he or she may want to do the same.

Listening to our kids

My bright, six-year-old son, Jeffrey, has phenylketonuria (PKU), a metabolic disease that requires him to follow a low-protein diet regimen. This means plenty of substitutions when his friends may be eating "funner" food. When a special diet is a life-long requirement, it is important that children develop a sense of responsibility for what they eat. At the same time, it is important to allow them to express their feelings about the diet. We can learn a lot by listening carefully.

For example, Jeffrey recently said to me, "Mom, I really liked the 'peanut butter' (actually a low-protein substitute) and jelly sandwich you put in my lunch box today." I realized that this sandwich was more than just a tasty lunch. I knew that it also boosted Jeffrey's self-esteem to be able to eat food that looked similar to that of his peers.

Another time Jeffrey came home from school, sad and dragging, and said emphatically, "I don't like this diet!" Together, we figured out he was unhappy because he couldn't eat a hamburger. Regular hamburgers had too much protein, but together we came up with an acceptable substitute--low-protein mushroom burgers. As parents, we have to follow medical advice, but we can still learn to listen to our children and creatively manage their diets. Children appreciate being able to express their feelings openly and having their needs treated respectfully.

A voice and a choice

Parents can reinforce a sense of responsibility in children by giving them a voice and a choice in matters that affect them. Severely restricting your child without explanation can lead to immaturity and rebellion. Children will accept "rules" more readily when explanations are given. Although health conditions may limits ome options, we can help children accept inevitable choices gracefully. …

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