School-age Child



Characteristics of the School-age Child

Feeding The School-age Child




Feeding the School Age Child

The school age child is curious and enthusiastic about food and eating if you have done your job in the early years. If the school-age child is having problems with food and eating you may need to back up and take a look at the "Division of Responsibility in Feeding Children" again. Setting a good example, setting limits, expecting appropriate behavior, and ignoring inappropriate behavior all continue to be very important at this age.

It is important to the school age child to have at least some meals during the week where the whole family is present. Appropriate eating is tied up with feeling good about oneself and research has shown that the elderly who eat alone, eat less well. This can be correlated to children eating alone, or without adults. Meals are best when there is social interaction with people you care about. Be creative and work out ways to have as many meals as possible together. You and your child will benefit from it.

Continue to have regularly planned meals and snacks and work hard to have a fairly regular schedule. School age children need the structure of knowing that the next meal will show up more or less on time. Children who eat meals with others rather than snacking all day or eating alone do better at getting appropriate nutrition.

School-age children are children first, still developing skills and coordination. She will still use their fingers quite a lot to help with eating. But she is old enough to learn that this is inappropriate behavior when Mom's boss is eating over. Children this age are continuing to learn about new foods and will accept them eventually. Continue to offer new foods, allow your child to help prepare the new food, but never force her to swallow a food. Continue to maintain limits around the timing of meals and snacks so that she comes to the meal hungry. Reward and praise desired behaviors and ignore undesired ones. If a child has particularly unpleasant behaviors at meals the parents need to be consistent in their limit setting: eject the child from the table and do not allow eating or snacking until the next regularly scheduled meal (which may be breakfast the next day!).

Continue to observe the "Division of Responsibility in Feeding Children". A school-age child will not starve nor die if she misses an occasional meal. The job of the parents is to provide nutritious meals; the job of the child is to decide how much to eat. Do not start short order cooking by running into the kitchen to cook something different because your 7 year old doesn't like tuna noodle casserole. She can eat the other items on the menu that night or she can go hungry. It is not a reflection on the parents skills when a child refuses food.

The school age child will experiment with food - stuffing himself on favorites, going to extremes with likes and dislikes and trying to shock you or his friends. This is a way of learning what his limits are and what yours are. Allow for some autonomy and experimentation and be sympathetic, but not judgmental, when they have a stomachache from too much ice cream.

The school age child will continue to have wide fluctuations in appetite - very hungry one week and barely able to look at food the next. This is perfectly normal. Offer a wide variety of nutritious foods, require that she join the family at the table but allow her to decide how much to eat. Some activities such as sports may increase the appetite, or may actually decrease the appetite immediately before or after the event. Get to know your child's needs in this area and work it into the schedule. You may need to provide a more nutritious lunch on game days or a large bedtime snack after the game.

Very picky eaters, overweight or underweight children or children with special medical challenges all need good self-esteem from home so they can cope with the challenges of eating at school or with friends. Treat the sick child or the picky child matter-of-factly: "this is the way you are". Don't scold, cajole, bribe or punish. Children with weight problems need to know that are accepted and loved unconditionally at home. Select healthy foods to have in the house, and don't bring empty calorie foods home from the store. Plan physical activities that several family members can participate in together. Set a good example around food and activity. Underweight children can often benefit from a visit to a dietitian or nutritionist to help them make appropriate food or supplement choices.

Pay attention to what the school lunch program is serving and if it is not appropriate become an activist and get some changes made. Packing a school lunch can be a joy or a hassle. Involve the child, try for variety, (sometimes this comes just by using different breads if the child insists on peanut butter every day) and add some fun. Don't be too strict about only healthy foods for lunch, because peer group acceptance is important. And don't forget they frequently trade around what they like or don't like anyway. So give your child a couple of cookies to trade with and you might be surprised to find that they traded for someone else's fruit. Try different shapes or forms of foods. Offer a variety of fruits or raw vegetables in addition to the usual sandwich, put some fresh berries in a small plastic container. Buy a thermos and send hot soup, chili, or leftover tuna casserole now and then. Encourage your child to buy low-fat milk at school to help meet the high calcium needs of this age group.

Surprise your child with a note of praise or love in her lunch or in her coat pocket - she will be delighted!

Keep your ears open to peer group attention to diet or weight. This pressure is especially found in athletes, dancers, and gymnasts. Don't be too judgmental, but sit down and discuss the dangers of dieting and weight extremes. Let your child express her opinions and knowledge of the issues. Continue to provide the same guidelines for eating and meals as before. Pay attention to the example you are setting and put renewed emphasis on the enjoyable social interaction of family meals.

Make eating enjoyable, social and interesting and you will set the stage for great eating habits in the years to come.