Nutrition counseling for families: what dietitians need to know
Good eating habits start early and at home, which is why nutrition counseling for families is so important. Here is what dietitians need to know about family nutrition.
Nutrition counseling is highly individualized, as each client has their own set of goals and preferences. As a registered dietitian, you need to take into account their lifestyle, schedules, and nutritional needs or restrictions to provide the best recommendations possible.
However, this task becomes even more difficult when your client also has a family. And if some clients are part of blended families or single parents, there is an added challenge of multiple caregivers, rotating calendars, and differing parenting styles. Regardless, these situations require even more compassion and understanding during your nutrition counseling sessions.
Here are some ways that nutrition experts can nutritionally guide clients towards a healthier lifestyle while also taking into account their family situation.
Establish family nutrition goals
Every family has its own set of challenges. Families with younger children may have a more regimented schedule, whereas families with older kids may have full calendars with after-school activities and sports. These are all important details to consider when counseling clients with families.
When setting goals with parents, remind them to be realistic when identifying areas that can be improved on. Eating most meals at home is a great goal, but it may not be achievable for everyone. Start small, and work together to find something that is attainable for their lifestyle.
If you need some help keeping your clients motivated, discover 6 strategies for your clients to keep their resolutions on nutrition.
For instance, if your client wants to eat more food at home, you can suggest meal planning and preparing foods for cooking ahead of time. This can be especially useful for those who have busy schedules and find it difficult to fit cooking into their daily routines.
You can also encourage clients to make a double recipe and save the leftovers for another day.
Identify intervention strategies during nutrition counseling sessions
Juggling multiple dietary concerns and food sensitivities or allergies can complicate mealtimes. Family life is busy, and it may not be feasible for the client to make multiple meals to meet everyone's needs.
If the client has personal dietary needs, consider how your recommendations will be implemented in the home environment. Sometimes, a specific diet won’t be appropriate for children, so find flexible ways to make your recommendations work for the entire family.
One way to do this is to suggest meal solutions that allow for easy substitutions. Build your own dinners such as tacos, stir fry, and rice and vegetable bowls offer flexibility while still meeting everyone's dietary needs.
Tip: If your client or their children are struggling with lactose, check out this article to learn more about the best milk alternatives.
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Implement age-appropriate guidelines
During your nutrition counseling session, you can work through the concerns of the client. Offer strategies that will also improve their children’s diet.
An excellent way to do this is through cooking, as it allows everyone to contribute and learn new skills. Older kids can help plan meals, shop for food, and cook dinners. Younger kids can help pick out produce and do simpler food preparation tasks such as peeling vegetables, opening cans, and measuring ingredients.
Having everyone involved in multiple aspects of meals and meal planning can help instill healthier habits and make nutrition more enjoyable.
Discuss ways to improve meals and snacks outside of the home
Packing lunches or snacks is a great way to stay on track when eating at school, work or even when they are traveling. However, some parents may rely on reduced or free meals for their children which lessens the control they have on the menu. In these situations, encourage the client to review the school menu and work with the child to identify more nutritious options.
Make food fun
All nutrition professionals will encounter an unmotivated client (or even a family) at some point in their careers. Making food fun can be a strategy to motivate kids, but also their parents.
Trying new things can be challenging for kids and parents alike, but it can be helpful if new foods are introduced in a fun way. For instance, try having a theme night based on a favorite movie, or make it a rainbow night with something from each color group.
Overall, mealtimes should be enjoyable. Therefore, you can work with your clients to come up with interesting ways to get their kids excited to eat more nutritious foods.
Nutrition counseling for families often requires some extra considerations. Regardless of the family situation, you can work with each client to find flexible solutions to their time constraints as well as food choices and preferences. Through careful planning and guidance, you can help make mealtimes enjoyable for the entire family and guide them towards better nutrition choices.
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