"Smart Eating". What it means to a dietitian.

Today marks the start of the inaugural “Smart Eating Week”. Smart Eating Week recognises that smart eating is a means to good nutrition and a key step towards better health for everyone.

Supported by The Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA), Smart Eating Week aims to promote that “smart eating” will mean different things to different people and how we go about achieving “smart eating” will be different too.

As a dietitian who works with infants, children and adults often with complex, unique and challenging health conditions I often spend time explaining the differences between population based recommendations (like the “Go-for-2-and-5” fruit and vegetables and “eat low-fat dairy” health campaigns) and my clients special nutrition requirements. I spend time helping them to understand what “Smart Eating” might mean to them and work with them to find tasty and nutritious foods to include within their daily diet.

For many of my clients “Smart Eating” doesn’t mean eating in the conventional manner. For those with swallowing difficulties or who might have experienced trauma, the process of putting food to the mouth, biting, chewing, swallowing and absorbing can be challenging. For them Smart Eating can mean finding alternative routes to get good nutrition into their body or working with their medical team to find safer ways to eat.  

The start of “Smart Eating Week” has got me thinking; when working with infants, children and adults with special needs what do I consider to be “Smart Eating”? To me “Smart Eating” means:

-           Clients and their families understanding their own nutrition needs to be able to make smart choices to be able to achieve this. This might include ““Go-for-2-and-5” and eat low-fat dairy” messages but can be a whole lot more too. 

-          Clients and their families being able to integrate and enjoy both social and nutritional sides of food. This might include supporting people with swallowing problems to be able to enjoy pureed foods in a manner which is dignified, tasty and consistent with social norms. It can mean for parents to be able to care and nurture through the preparation of foods that are safe and nutritious for their child regardless of if they need a tube rather than the mouth to “eat”. 

-          Clients’ understanding that no food is “bad” and smart eating doesn’t include unnecessary food rules. It allows them to think of foods as “friendly” or “less friendly” and know how to select less friendly foods “sometimes and in small amounts”

-          Parents being able to provide an environment that is nurturing for growing happy, healthy eaters. Smart Eating includes parents providing a “Smart Eating Environment” that uses positive language around mealtimes, role models healthy behaviours and empowers their child to enjoy a wide range of foods

As a dietitian, I strongly support community-based health messages but also recognise that because we are all unique, with different health challenges, goals and lifestyles “Smart Eating” means so much more than population-based messages. I thrive on working with clients and their families to understand their “Smart Eating” and helping them to be able to achieve this.

If you’re not quite sure what “Smart Eating” means for you and your family, you know what “Smart Eating” is for your family but struggle to achieve it or if you’re someone who would like to explore alternative ways to provide your body with the nutrition it needs contact us today