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When The Joy Goes Out of Eating, Nutrition Suffers

The title of this post is a partial quote from pediatric nutritionist Ellyn Satter. Here is the entire quote:

“The secret to feeding a healthy family is to love good food, trust yourself, and share that love and trust with your child. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.”

The quote comes from a blog post titled Constructing Snacks into Mini-Meals on Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s blog, seattlemamadoc.com.

I found the article very interesting. Particularly because in our house, snacking is a bit of an issue. In fact, for my kids, snacks seem to be more important than the actual meal.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason my kids eat regular meals, is because otherwise, they won’t be able to have a snack or dessert. It is like they view it as a means to and end. This is what I assume goes through their heads:

“The only way I’m gonna get the snack, is if I eat my lunch. Might as well eat the lunch, so I can get to my snack.”

And apparently, my family is the not the only one with this issue. It is a growing trend in the US.

Over the past 20 years, the amount of calories consumed by children from snacks has increased by 30%. Kids eat a third more calories everyday from snacks! What kids snack on certainly can reflect how their diet is shaped and how they grow. Plain and simple: snacks make us fatter by packing in lots of calories in relatively small bits of food, the definition of “calorie dense” foods. They also discourage our eating of things like fruit and veggies because they fill us all up. One recent study found it was our over-consumption of snacks more than our under-consumption of fruits and veggies that is getting us into trouble.

Dr. Swanson says that there has a huge shift in the way children eat and get their nutrition in the US. She highlights some examples, such as:

  • The introduction of processed foods in the 1970’s transformed what we eat from fresh to packaged food
  • TV advertising of snacks directed at kids increases their desire for snack foods
  • The challenge for busy families to find time to sit down and eat meals together
  • Watching TV during meals in households
  • Ubiquitous availability (they are everywhere!) and easy access to snack foods
  • It is okay to be a little hungry. Dr Grow says, “Teaching kids it’s okay to get a little bit hungry (not ravenous) and work up an appetite for a regular meal” is a healthy way to learn to eat right.
  • It’s our worst fear that our kids will starve. It’s almost an instinct to offer and offer and offer food all day. Our kids won’t starve, especially if we offer 3 meals and 2 healthy snacks daily.
  • Red/Orange/Yellow packaging is dangerous. These colors are known to make you hungry and eat more. Advertisers know this! Think about leading fast-food chains, junk food, candy bars and soda containers. Red/Orange/Yellow is threat level alert for high-calorie foods that often have little nutritive value.

We’ve written about snacking before on Survivor Pediatrics. In the this post, Dr. Hackell ask: with the national alarm increasing about the rate of obesity in our children (and adults as well), what message are we giving our children about eating when we provide them with a continuous stream of things entering their mouth throughout the day?

Dr. Swanson does offer a possible solution. She mentions the idea of switching the snack for a mini-meal. So, anything that we would feel comfortable eating during a normal meal, but in smaller portions.

I like this idea. Except the part about preparing yet another meal, even if it is mini. Snacks in little packages are just so convenient. But I guess I’ll give it a try and see.

To read the rest of Dr. Swason’s post, click on the link.

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What is the most important thing I can do to make sure my child is as healthy as possible?

Written by Nelson Branco MD

No pediatrician can answer the question: “What’s the most important thing I can do to keep my child healthy?” without listing three of four things.

I’m no different, but right now family dinners are at the top of my list. You could argue that immunizations, car seats, bike helmets, 9-1-1, sleep, or good hand washing are just as important, and I won’t disagree.

But it’s hard to overlook the overwhelming research on the positive effects of family dinners on children’s diet, social development, and sense of connection with their parents and siblings.

Family dinner means sitting down to eat with an adult, without any distracting screens, on most days of the week. It also means everyone eating the same meal. With our busy lives and overscheduled kids, this can be difficult but not impossible. Even if you can’t do it every night, it’s worth rearranging the schedule so that some nights everyone can eat together.

Benefits of the family dinner vary depending on the ages of your children. For the toddler and preschooler, the family dinner will be short. Most toddlers will sit at the table for just a few minutes before getting distracted and wanting to run off and play.

The importance of the family dinner for them is modeling good eating habits and improving their diet. Children who are fed a separate meal will eat from the “Kids Menu” more often. This usually means hot dogs, pasta, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese and other foods that they are quick and easy to prepare, and don’t challenge their taste buds too much.

When you serve a meal for the entire family, the toddler is forced to watch you eat all sorts of different foods. (Assuming that your diet is better than the “Kids Menu” choices.) Colorful things – green, yellow, red, and sometimes even blue. Lots of textures and tastes, and more variety than they would choose on their own. This isn’t going to be immediately popular unless you have an adventurous eater. But over time, even the pickiest eaters will try new and different foods – after watching you eat them 100 or 1000 times.

For the school-aged child, family dinners are a time to share and talk. This is where they practice telling you about school, their friends, the picture they drew that day, the insect they found in the backyard or what books they are reading.

This is a time to practice manners – I can guarantee that you will have at least one conversation about the appropriateness of potty talk at the dinner table, and if say it enough times, they may start to use a napkin to wipe their mouth instead of a sleeve.

Many families have a regular way of sharing the day’s experiences: “What was the best and worst thing that happened today?,” “Highs and Lows,” or “What are you thankful for?”

The family dinner provides opportunities for assigning chores and responsibilities. Kids should learn that being part of the family means sharing the work as well. Setting the table, pouring drinks, clearing plates and washing and putting away the dishes are all things they can do to help.

If your child is interested, they can even take part in planning meals, shopping and cooking. For the very picky eater, helping cook can get them interested in foods they would otherwise never think about eating.

As kids get older, family dinners are even more important. Teens are going through a developmental stage where they are separating from their parents and joining a peer group.

Keeping tabs on them while they make this transition is important, and family meals give you a regular time to sit and talk about what’s up. If family dinners are a regular occurrence, you’ll notice when something is bothering your teen.

Take the time to sit down and eat with your kids, even if it’s not convenient. It doesn’t have to be every night, and it doesn’t have to be both parents. Eating healthy meals with your kids is a win for everyone.

 

Dr. Branco is a practicing pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay Area and is very active with the local chapter of the AAP.

Eating healthy meals with your kids is a win for everyone.

Dr. Branco is a practicing pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay Area and is very active with the local chapter of the AAP.