Written by Dr. Jennifer Shaer MD., FAAP., IBCLC
There is a lot of attention these days on childhood obesity. How do cute chubby babies grow into unhealthy overweight children? It’s very easy. Weight management is an uphill battle for everyone. It is only successful for adults when they have the desire and determination to make a change. The problem for kids is that they want what they want, when they want it. Children cannot understand the consequences of overeating and lack of exercise. They cannot be expected to make healthy food choices on their own. It is up to parents to instill healthy eating habits in their kids. Here are a few tips.
Be a role model
Eating healthy is a family affair and children learn by example. It is unreasonable to expect one person in the family to be on a “diet”. Set the house up properly and think of healthy eating and exercise as a lifestyle change instead of a diet. Fill the cabinets and refrigerator with healthy snacks, fruits and vegetables. If the chips and junk food are not there, then they are not an option. If a child is whining that he wants the cookies, it is easy to say “no” if there are none in the house.
Watch portion sizes
There is an absolute distortion of what a portion size is these days. Read labels and measure your food just to get a sense of what a portion size is.
Recognize appetite as opposed to hunger
There is a big difference between appetite and hunger. Offer anyone an ice cream sundae and he will have an appetite. Just because your child will eat an entire plate of cookies, does not mean he is hungry.
Stop making your child clean his plate
It is really important to let your child decide how much he wants to eat. Young children have the ability to actually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Your job as a parent is to choose what foods to offer and when to offer them. Your child’s hunger should determine how much of the meal he eats. If he chooses to eat very little at one meal, he will eat more at the next. Mealtime should not be stressful.
Do not use food as a reward
There are better ways to reward good behavior than giving junk food. Everyone should be allowed to eat junk food on occasion. The key is to limit unhealthy foods and limit the portions. Good behavior is an expectation aside from food.
Don’t drink your calories
An easy way to watch calorie intake is to drink more water. Kids can absorb a lot of calories by drinking juice, soda and even milk. When drinking milk, choose fat free.
Slow down. It takes time for the brain to realize that the stomach is actually full. If your child eats slower and drinks water while eating then he will get full faster. Do not allow second portions unless he is truly still hungry. Keep the serving platters off the table to make it more inconvenient to reach for a second serving.
Avoid emotional eating
If your kids are bored or happy or sad, then help them find something else to do.
Do not allow your kids to eat in front of the television or computer
Lots of calories can be eaten without even realizing it when you eat in front of the TV.
Be active as a family
Take a walk or go for a bike ride. Get off the couch and get moving.
Dr. Shaer is a pediatrician and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is director of the Breastfeeding Medicine Center of Allied Pediatrics of New York. Dr. Shaer is dedicated to helping nursing mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals.