'My child is a very fussy eater and refuses to eat vegetables'
Ask parents how they would feel about trying these options: 1) mix vegetables or fruit in with other dishes so that the children don't know they are eating them (and ask the parents how long they think this should be continued because, eventually, children will need to know they are eating and enjoying fruit and veg); 2) Try other unusual vegetables that the children have never seen or tried before and don't call them a vegetable at first until they decide they like them.
Now that their child is more interested in trying out new foods - even if they don't like all of the ones they try - it is time to let them decide which new foods the family is going to add to the weekly shopping list. Ask the parents how they think they could go about introducing this. The parents may say things such as they could look for new recipes together and challenge their child to find one with a new type of food in it, then make it together. Start 4 Life has lots of interesting, inexpensive and simple recipes on its website.
'My child is never hungry and hardly eats at meal times but complains she is hungry between meals, so I give her snacks as I am worried about not feeding her enough.'
In this case, I would ask the parent what they are giving as snacks. Depending on the type and size of the snack, snacking may be why the child is no longer hungry for meals and will not eat them. Or they may be filling up on milk. Use open questions to help parents come to this realisation. Ask parents if they feel there should be a pattern to their mealtimes and where the best place is in their house to eat as a family, and why they chose that place as their answer.
Next - encourage parents to reflect on whether there are times when their child does need a snack (they may suggest times of rapid growth, or when they has been a lot of exercise during the day), and what they think and appropriate snack could consist of: an apple or peeled carrot (both need to be cut into small pieces if their child has braces), a plain yoghurt with some fresh berries, a piece of wholemeal bread thinly spread with peanut butter or WOWBUTTER, or some plain popcorn.
'My child hates fruit.'
Investigate what types of fruit the child has eaten to date. It may be that they were offered oranges or other citrus fruits in which case offer them bananas, grapes or melons. Ask parents what mealtime would be best for them to introduce new foods, and ask them how they feel about doing something like making it a game where the children choose which fruit they would like to include in a fruit salad and allow them to the softer fruit up with a butter knife so they can help with preparing the food as well as eating it. Explore the parents' feelings about substituting mashed then frozen soft fruits for a healthy twist on ice lollies; encourage them to suggest types of fruit they fell would be suitable.
Next - ask parents which words they think should be avoided and which ones should be used when talking about why new foods should be tried. (Hopefully they will say to avoid using words like 'healthy' and focus more on the fun of eating new things.). Ask the parents if they have considered growing their own veg, which ones may be easiest to grow, and ways they could do this. You're looking for answers that show consideration of growing their own fruit or veg in a window box, a pot or a growbag. And, that they are aware there are many types of healthy food which are simple to grow at home and that they can just ask their local garden centre or DIY store for targeted advice.
'I nag them about so much, I don't want to start on food, too.'
It can be fun! Involve the whole family in growing, cooking and preparing food. Ask parents if they feel treats should be stopped completely or what a suitable alternative might be (ideally they will say that occasional treats are a better option than part of the regular daily food).
Next - ask parents what they could do to get the message across without nagging about healthy eating. Ask them how they could be positive about food and the benefits that eating well has.
'I don't want to give her an eating disorder.'
Reassure the parents that many children go through at least one stage of being fussy about food. Ask them how the fussy food stage is making them feel and discuss that the way that we deal with the child's reaction to food will impact on their eating habits. Ask them what they think would be the best way to respond to their child behaving fussily about food, and what solutions they may be able to think of to work around this to allow them to still introduce new foods. (They respond with ideas such as staying calm, continuing to offer food over a period of weeks along with other new foods.) Explore how limiting eating a minimal variety of food can be to the family.
Next - suggest the parents avoid talking about weight or fat in relation to food. Ask them to think about the different types of emphasis they could put on food instead which will make the point that food is fuel and way of nourishing our bodies so that they can do amazing things.
'All the family are big boned. It's in his genes.'
You can acknowledge that some families do seem to be naturally bigger, and take the opportunity to ask the parents how they think their lifestyle will impact on their body shape in years to come. Open the discussion up to include time for them to reflect on way they could start a family project to eat well and be active. Ask them how they could make being active more fun.
Next - if parents mention barriers to family exercise such as cost implications you could offer to give them links to free family activities such as a Sunday junior parkrun near them. They are 2k in distance, free, times events for 4-14 year-olds (but adults can take part too; the parents just won't get an official time on the stats table). There are also Saturday parkruns, too, which are 5k long but families are welcome to walk, run or a combination of the two. Their local council websites should also have a page or a circular, which will list free family activities in their area.
'It's not because he eats a lot. He hardly eating anything at mealtimes.'
Ask parents to consider how much/when their child snacks and what effect this may be having on their child's appetite at mealtimes. If he's been having lots of snack (including sugary drinks), he just might not be hungry at mealtimes. Parents could try limiting snack, especially those that are high in sugar or fat, and seeing if he eats better at mealtimes.
Next - make mornings count. Ask parents to consider when it's best to offer snacks and what impact mealtimes may have on their child's wish to snack. Using visual aids, explore what they know of healthy breakfasts and what benefits these may offer their family. Don't just have a bowl of cereal. Try porridge with fresh banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon or boiled eggs and toast soldiers. The same goes for other meals too - help parents to consider adding in foods that take time to eat and are filling.
'I work full-time. I haven't got time to cook.'
Emphasis with the parent - it can seem really hard to get on with cooking after a long day" Encourage them to try to think of foods they know of that can be combined into a meal in less that 5 minutes (e.g. eggs in a variety of ways, microwaved jacket potatoes with healthy fillings both only take 5 minutes.) Support parents with exploring ways in which they could plan their week to get organised with the shopping and whether making food in bulk (and which kids of food) is an option for them.
Next - for fast meal menus and recipes, parents can visit Change 4 Life recipe section where they'll get a lot of choice to try out as a family. Discuss whether involving the children in these tasks is an option for the family because allowing children to join in with meal planning, preparing and cooking can be a valuable life lesson for them as well as making food seem fun in a different way.
'He doesn't like any healthy stuff. He'd eat nothing.'
Children need to try things lots of times before they like them so parents shouldn't worry he's never going to like a food. Ask them what their reactions have been to his refusal to try or to like the new food - do they get upset, or do they praise him for trying? Explore what ways they have tried to introduce the new food so and what new ways they can think of. Group sessions are ideal for this as parents can share ideas with other
Next - offer parents reassurance (if others in the group haven't done so already) and encourage them to be patient. It may take some time for him to be willing to try new foods, and he isn't going to like everything (who does?) even after trying them several times, but there will definitely be new tastes that he will come to accept and then even enjoy, especially if they are willing to consider role-modelling behaviours they would like to see from their child.
'I was like that as a child.'
This is helpful information as it will help the parent reflect on whether their lifestyle was any different to the way their child's is now. For example, what did they do for fun/eat as a child that is different to what their child does now? Do they think that, with the lifestyle/diet/amount of exercise their child has now, their child will have the same body shape as they do now? And, if they do, is this they want for their child?
Next - ask parents to consider what effect it will have on their child's behaviour if they're constantly on a diet or rave erratic eating times, and to reflect on what kind of lifestyle messages they may be sending their child.
'The rest of the family are skinny, I don't understand it.'
People get their body shapes from both sides of the family and the possible combinations are endless, which is why some siblings/family members can look very different from others. Ask parents to think about how they could adapt their lifestyle and diet in slightly different ways. Encourage them to also consider what positive benefits this may bring them and their children despite their differing shapes.
Next - support parents to think about the effects food will have on their child's body shape over time. Do they think it's ok to have the occasional treat? How might they manage the family's lifestyle to make this a positive part of their life? It is perfectly acceptable as long as they balance these with smart food choices and physical activity, in which case their children's lifestyle will be healthy, and hopefully, as they explore this issue with your/their group's support, they will come to this conclusion.
'The father works long hours and doesn't get home till later. He and his wife want quiet time to enjoy together so they eat after the children are in bed. Why should I recommend that this type of family eat together?'
Research shows that families who have meals together are less likely to have obese children and more likely to have children who eat more fruit and vegetables, less fast food and fewer soft drinks. Ask the parent to reflect on ways in which they can have some much-needed quiet time together whilst still finding time to enjoy meals as a family - could they fir this in any part of their week?
A positive experience of family dining improves the chance of developing healthy lifestyles. Conversely, parents complaining about the child not eating all their food will have a negative impact. For this family, it might be better suited for them to aim to eat together a few times a week rather than every day. Exploring their schedules and thinking about the positive benefits of meals together will help them to decide what balance they want to for.
'The parents are angry because they say they offer their child a healthy diet and, after listening to them describe an average day's food, this does seem to be correct. What can I say now?'
You can acknowledge that you do agree their child;s diet is health - it's good for parents to know you can see the positive aspects of their parenting. Using portion size charts such as the Eatwell Guide, ask parents to compare how much of each type of healthy food their child is eating, and whether this is the right amount or more healthy food than they burn off. ask them what amount of exercise their children do and what influence they think this exercise has on using up the healthy food they have eaten.
Asking parents to demonstrate what they think is an appropriate serving size for all food groups can be useful in opening discussions around this subject. Often parents are giving children larger portions or encouraging less exercise than they needs.
'My child doesn't like exercise. All he wants to do is play Minecraft.'
Exercise needn't be getting your child to go swimming or running. Try to encourage them with a team sport perhaps or, if they don't like the idea of exercise at all, get them to help you with the gardening or take them food shopping with you and get them to help choose the food or go on a hunt down the next aisle for something on your list - time them to make them move faster but so it seems like it's part of a game.
Spend time watching him/her play Minecraft - can this be turned into a game outside the house? Using sticks to pretend to chop down trees for example, or to dig for gemstones? If you can afford the tariff then what about starting a game of Pokemon Go that you can share? Walk in the park over a few days to hatch an egg in the incubator, find Pokestops to recharge your pokeballs and other supplies, etc.
'The school says my 5-year-old is overweight when he just has a bit of puppy fat. This is just and safety gone made.'
BMI calculations are based on height and weight so her son must be on the heavy side for his height/age. It would be good to think about his weight now before he becomes obese as a teenager. Children that are overweight are more likely to become overweight adults. It's important to create a healthy lifestyle from a very early age. This family would be ideal for working on prevention of further weight gain rather than focusing on weight loss.
Children can become overweight even when eating a healthy diet if their calorie intake is greater than the amount they burn off. Sometimes, for these children, losing weight can be as simple as reducing their portion sizes and increasing their active playtime. This family would be ideal for working on prevention of further weight gain rather than focusing on weight loss. Useful areas would be portion sizes and activity levels.
'We haven't got time to fit in any exercise.'
Exercise doesn't have to be something you have to go out specifically to do. Try to fit it into your normal day by walking to school, parking the car a few streets away and walking the rest of the way, or getting off the bus early. It all counts. Look at how you spend time after school, too. A trip to the park instead of straight onto the iPads and TV will be good for everyone.
As active play becomes the norm in your family (instead of just playing on iPads or watching TV), then add in some different types of activities that are slightly more demanding of your time such as hikes in a local park on a day that all or most of the family have off.
'Where we live, it's not safe for him to go out and play after school.'
Do something outdoors as a family instead. Play noughts and crosses with your bodies by racing each other the the playing area and dropping a towel or shirt in the spot of choice and running back to the start line. Go play in the park before supper or before bedtime. Make walking or cycling the default method of family transport.
On weekends you can do activities that take you further afield, or take longer to complete. Explore and go on adventures as a family in places away from the area you live in. It doesn't have to cost any money if you can't afford to spare any - try making a treasure map with a different adventure playground featuring as the treasure or a specific building or place as your goal to get to by following the map.
'All the sports clubs cost so much. I can't afford it.'
There are plenty of activities that are free in your community, e.g. parkrun. Exercise isn't just about sports clubs. Getting out for a bike ride, going for a seaswim, free kids circuit training groups, free outdoor gyms, having a walk together or a kick-about at the park are great ways to be active for free.
Check your local council website, local paper and local county website for free activities on offer in your area.
'She keeps trying different clubs and then says she doesn't like them so gives up.'
It's important to let them try different things so they can find something they like. Kids can be very fickle though and do sometimes need a bit of encouragement to stick at something. As they improve, they often get enthusiastic again. Taking them to watch professionals do the sport or looking at role models performing online can be a great motivator.
Why not find a club activity that you can enjoy with them or as a family? Check your local council website to see which clubs you can attend with your children or as a family for low prices or even free. Or, start your own fitclub with other parents and their children down at the local park, where you can challenge each other and have fun at the same time.
'They get enough exercise at school; they do lots of PE.'
We mustn't rely on what happens at school. Children need to be active for at least 60 minutes in total each day but also need to reduce the time they spend sitting
Creating a healthy, active environment at home is essential so they avoid activity peaks (too much exercise all at once rather than spread throughout the day) and get into good habits for life. We, as parents, have to take responsibility too. Find an activity you can enjoy together.
'She doesn't like sport because she's not as good as her friends.'
Try moving away from the traditional sports and doing something fer friends don't do. Encourage her just to compete with herself and enjoy being active.
The No Obesity: Professional app is available to download for free via Google Play and the App Store
Content credit: Health Education Thames Valley