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Food, Kids, and Caregivers

Does any of this sound familiar? “My babysitter offers food to the kids whenever she runs out of ideas for what to do next.” “My mother ignores any meal plan I have for the kids and gives them treats all day long.” “At my child’s preschool, they seem to think the kids won’t make it through the morning without two snacks.”

If you’ve heard yourself saying those words, or something like them, you’re not alone. When people take care of your kids, they want to feed them. And for the non-parental caregiver, giving food to a child and having it happily accepted means they must be doing a good job.

So how do you keep people from stuffing food down your kids’ throats all day long? First, to keep things in perspective for a moment, things could be worse than having someone be overly eager to feed your kids. But if you find yourself getting frustrated by your kids’ snack-heavy eating habits while in the care of someone else (particularly if you are concerned about your child’s weight) you have a right to step in and set firmer ground rules. Here are a few ways to approach the problem:

Babysitters: When your babysitter first arrives, make sure you allow time to give a briefing on what your child already ate, and when you think your child will be ready to eat again. Whenever possible, write up a “menu” of what your child should have for lunch and snack (if applicable) that day. Be as specific as you feel you need to be. And rest assured that there’s literally no chance your kid will starve over the course of the day.

Mothers (and other relatives): Having relatives as caregivers adds an extra layer of complication to the issue, particularly if they tend to resist what you say. Begin with the same approach you’d use for a babysitter (giving them a menu and approximate schedule for the day). If they repeatedly ignore your instructions, rely on a higher power, namely your pediatrician. “Mom, the doctor says that Janie should only have a piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack.”

School programs: If you feel that your child is being overfed at school, talk about it with the program director. It could be the case that snacktime is used as a bridge between activities. Ask if they could substitute a water break or some extra recess time instead of another snack. And remind them that most traditional snacks (such as crackers or other high-carb and low-protein snacks) give children a burst of energy and then a crash. Call upon your pediatrician or a nutritionist if you need backup.

But beyond that, don’t be a total killjoy. People like to give special treats to your kids because it’s fun – so let them enjoy it. Save the dessert until the babysitter comes over so that she gets to have the fun of giving it to them. Let your mother enjoy her special time making cookies with the kids. And let your kids enjoy cupcakes at school if that’s the treat for the day. Just make sure your kids know the house rules about what they’re allowed to eat and when, so that they have a consistent routine to fall back upon when Grandma and the babysitter finally go home.

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