As nutritionists who specialize in childhood eating behaviors, we’ve read oodles of books and research studies related to the topic kids and eating. While there’s a lot out there, the majority of it is either research-based (not practical) or personal (not validated). It’s rare when a book comes along that provides helpful guidance with a perfect blend of science and real-world practicality.
Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobson is that rare gem.
For starters, Castle and Jacobson are meticulous and thorough in sharing the most up-to-date research on childhood nutrition and related behaviors. Plus, together they have years of practical experience, both in counseling families and in raising their own respective children. This gives them the knowledge and ability to share advice that works (not advice that “should work in theory” but is completely unrealistic given the realities of raising kids).
The “Fearless Feeding” Approach
One of our favorite things about the book is the authors’ “Fearless Feeding” approach, which addresses the “what,” “why” and “how” of common eating challenges. Every situation or “problem” is broken down into manageable pieces that you can tackle from different angles. “My child won’t touch vegetables!” becomes an issue of examining what vegetables you’re introducing, how the vegetables are introduced and why he might be avoid or rejecting them.
A Long Term Approach
Castle and Jacobson recognize that healthy eating is a life-long commitment that takes time, courage, and patience. Fearless Feeding provides all the strategies and tools that have been shown to have a high impact in building children’s internal motivation to eat healthfully. After all, it’s not about forcing kids to eat healthy foods. Rather the goal is to enable kids to make healthy choices willingly. This is a crucial skillset for kids, especially given how many food choices they make outside of our direct care over the long term.
And speaking of long term, we do mean long term. One of our favorite chapters was “The Parent Trap” chapter, which helps you identify YOUR own eating challenges and biases.
Laura: “It’s so much easier to point the finger at how my kids may crave sweets a bit too much than it is to look at my own habits. I definitely wasn’t expecting a book on childhood nutrition to go there, but this chapter was almost like having my own personal therapy session. It’s amazing how much my own childhood experience with food impacts both how I eat now and how I’m raising my kids with regard to eating and food choices.”
Your attitude towards – and the basic approach you use to interact with – your child around food and eating is called your feeding style. Although any one person’s style typically falls along a continuum, it is generally broken down into four distinct styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful.
Fearless Feeding is full of real life examples that families face, putting these “challenges: into the context of these various feeding styles. The benefit of this is that you’re sure to find a handful of scenarios that you can personally relate to. In addition to seeing where your feeding style is serving you well, you may also be surprised to notice where your feeding style is getting in your way.
Kiyah: “I have always thought of the permissive parent being the one who allowed their kids to have candy, soda, and chips all day every day. Then I read this in Fearless Feeding: ‘Daily feeding practices aligned with a permissive feeding style include constant feeding and short-order cooking.’ I was busted! I realized that my fear of overriding my kids’ own hunger signals, I stopped providing reasonable structure around meal and snack times. Luckily Fearless Feeding provides strategies for evaluating and adapting my habits so rather than thinking of this as a failure, I see it as an opportunity to reevaluate all of my ‘hows’ during my kids’ food requests.”
Overall, we highly recommend this book. It’s not a book you need to read cover-to-cover – or that the authors even recommend that you should. Rather, it’s a great book to pick up when you need help with a particular challenge or you simply want to re-evaluate how you can shake up your feeding style to do just a tad better.
The practical, no-nonsense “Fearless Feeding” approach makes even the toughest of feeding challenges seem fixable. And indeed, they all are fixable, especially when you’re in it for the long haul.
Kiyah J. Duffey, PhD
Kiyah is an assistant professor in the department of Human, Nutrition, Foods & Exercise at Virginia Tech, a freelance nutrition consultant, blogger, and a mother to three young children. She has published extensively on the links between diet, obesity and heart disease, but her true passion is food: reading, writing, and talking about, shopping for, and cooking and sharing it. Someday she’ll figure out how to marry her passion and expertise more fully, in the meantime you can read about her efforts to do so at Our Regularly Scheduled Program.