After decades of increasing, the childhood obesity rate is starting to level off. However, the rate is still alarmingly high. Did you know that 1 in 3 children aged 10-17 are considered obese? Childhood overweight/obesity is regarded as the most common prevalent nutritional disorder of US children and adolescents. Why should we be concerned with overweight kids? They’ll outgrow it, right? It’s common for parents to think that their overweight kids will grow out of it and lean out. Unfortunately that’s not true. Overweight/obese preschoolers are 5 times more likely to become overweight/obese as teens and adults. I think most of us are aware that there is a very long list of long-term health and psychological implications of obesity. It’s something we want to prevent.
While there are several contributing factors to childhood obesity, starting healthy habits young is crucial. The truth is that eating behaviors and physical activity are factors that CAN be modified. Change is never easy, but the earlier you start the better. To encourage healthy eating behaviors, keep the following tips in mind when it comes to feeding your kids.
Follow the division of responsibility.
The parent is responsible for what food is served, when it is served and where it is served.
The child is responsible for how much food they eat and whether they eat it.
The division of responsibility emphasizes that children need to learn to eat independently without pressure from their parents. Rest assured that you are doing your job as a parent as long as you are offering them healthy choices (most of the time) on a regular schedule.
Trust your child’s appetite.
Young children know how much to eat. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They are really good at listening to their own hunger cues. It’s common for parents to worry if their child is eating enough. Your child’s appetite can vary from day to day. It may worry you that he isn’t eating much on some days so think beyond a single day. You’ll probably notice that they’ll make up for it in the coming days.
Some days your child is going to refuse to eat. There are a lot of different reasons why this could be. They could be full from too many liquids, snacks, or big portions. They could be sick, tired, stressed, distracted or too excited. Or they just may not want to eat because they don’t like what is offered. The point is that there are many reasons as to why they refuse to eat. Don’t sweat it. As long as your child is healthy and growing normally, he is eating enough.
Avoid eating all day long.
Some children want to eat all day long. They snack on food throughout the day because they would rather be playing than sitting down at the table. They are known as grazers. Others may snack all day simply because they are bored, stressed or feel good when eating. In both cases, snacking all day can ruin their appetite and lead to overeating. Offer 3 meals and 2 snacks throughout the day. Make it a habit to keep the kitchen closed between meals and snacks. Snacks should be centered around fruits and veggies.
Bribing your child to eat (or rewarding them for eating) is a way of pressuring them to eat. A child may eat to get their reward, but he will learn to ignore his own hunger cues.
Sweets are a favorite among everyone. The problem is that sweets can ruin appetites and change our taste buds. Your child may only want to eat sweets and refuse other foods. Enjoy sweets in small amounts and don’t make a big deal out of them. Try not to make a habit of rewarding your child with sweets.
Sweet drinks can add a lot of extra calories to your child’s diet. Make sure you offer plenty of water to your child. As a rule of thumb, don’t allow sugary drinks in your home. If you are going to offer juice, make sure it is 100% juice and limit to 4-6 ounces a day.
Lead the way.
You are your child’s most important role model. Make sure you sit down to eat with your children and that you eat the same foods. Your child will want to eat what you eat so make healthy choices.
Stop the “power struggle.”
Along with trusting your child’s appetite, realize that your child doesn’t need to eat every meal and snack you offer. Forcing our children to eat creates pressure and tension at meal time. This can lead to battles and negative associations around food. Instead be patient and stay calm. Your child will feel safe and learn important feeding skills. We want our children to learn to enjoy food, eat without pressure and decide on their own how much to eat.
Don’t label your child.
“My child is a picky eater” is one of the most common concerns I hear from the families I work with. I am guilty of using this phrase as well! We need to be careful with what we say. Labeling our children as picky eaters will reinforce the belief. It will also limit the food choices they are exposed to. You can acknowledge that it is challenging to feed them but don’t let it define what you offer them.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to encouraging healthy eating habits in your children.