Not only do I try to talk to all of my patients and families about media use and the need for a healthy media diet, I also try to incorporate questions about eating habits into my well child visits. Even though most pediatricians are busy, a few minutes spent discussing healthy eating can go a long way. I have started asking a few new questions which I think are really helpful about assessing a families eating habits.
It is impressive how much information you can get out of asking a few key questions even to children as young as 4 or 5 years of age. This is especially true if they are talkative! You know the saying, “out of the mouth of babes”, it is so true.....kids often have no filters.
If I just ask, “do you think your family eats healthy meals?” the answer is usually yes. But that doesn’t really tell me much about what the child (or their parents) deem “healthy”. So, I start off asking “who fixes breakfast?”. This question not only lets me know if a child is eating breakfast but also if a parent is involved in getting a child’s breakfast ready. Not every child is fortunate enough to have a parent around in the morning to fix breakfast...and some of their food choices are related to that issue. Then I ask them what is their favorite cereal......rarely do I hear “steel cut oats”.
Next, I ask if they take their lunch to school or if they buy their lunch. If they buy lunch, I ask what they like to buy at school, and often it is pizza, chicken, hamburgers, tacos. Almost any age child can name their favorite food, but then I ask them their favorite fruit or vegetable... sometimes a child cannot name one, which makes me think they are not eating them.
Most kids come home from school and have a snack as well.....so once again I ask “what do you do after school for a snack?” . Some kids are in after school programs and seem to have healthier snack options, while others tell me they stop at “fast food” restaurants almost every day. Some come home and eat cereal for the second time that day.
Lastly, I ask....”who fixes dinner?” “Do you set the table?” This also is a great way of seeing if a family eats together. As you know I am a big believer in family meals for all sorts of reasons.
I hope your pediatrician is asking you and your children about mealtimes as well.....very important to promote healthy eating habits.