Today’s blog post comes from Mary Donkersloot, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with a private nutrition practice in Beverly Hills, California. Donkersloot has helped individuals dealing with diabetes, heart disease, weight management and eating disorders for more than 20 years. She is also one of ENC’s Health Professional Advisors.
A new study of more than 7000 U.S. children by Emory Health Sciences has found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by the eighth grade, and almost every child who was obese remained that way (1). With this new information, it is paramount that parents and caregivers learn the basics of how to help kids develop an eating style that will prevent weight issues. Here are five steps that may be helpful:
#1 Provide meal and snack structure.
Kids need a routine with predictable meal times, which generally best works out to be comprised of 3 meals and 3 snacks — breakfast, lunch, dinner, with a snack in between each and perhaps one at bedtime. Feeding toddlers whatever they want, whenever they want, may interfere with their ability to self-regulate their appetite and is a formula for overeating and weight gain.
#2 Limit processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt.
These may interfere with the child’s ability to eat in response to hunger, rather than impulse or reward (2). Instead of sugary cereals at breakfast, serve an egg and a slice of whole grain toast. Instead of crackers or cookies for snacks, make a snack a mini-meal, like almond butter on a small amount of whole grain bread with a glass of milk.
#3 Avoid sugary beverages.
Soda is an obvious issue, given its high calorie, low nutrient content. But juice should be limited as well, since when we drink calories, we don’t cut back as much, if at all, at the next meal, which can lead to overeating. (3,4) Choose water or milk instead of sugary beverages.
#4 Serve a fruit or vegetable each time you feed your child.
Including fruit in milkshakes or smoothies and adding vegetables to soups and sandwiches can help increase the nutrient and fiber content of children’s meals. Fiber is particularly important. Not only does their fiber help to give a sense of fullness, vegetables and fruits also provide vital phytochemicals that protect the health of the child and promote healthy growth and development.
#5 Eat more home-cooked meals.
Many of the typical “kid’s meals” in restaurants add up to 1000 calories or more, especially those with pasta and sauce, or burgers, fries and soda. Kids who dine out soon suffer from “portion distortion,” or unrealistic expectations of what is a normal portion size. This may result in them feeling cheated when they are served a smaller portion of pasta at home.
While these changes may not be feasible overnight, remember baby steps can go a long way in developing a healthier routine for your child.
Mary Donkersloot, RD
- Cunningham SA, Kramer MR, Venkat Narayan KM. Incidence of childhood obesity in the United States. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:403-411.
- Johnson SL, Taylor-Holloway LA. Non-Hispanic white and Hispanic elementary school children’s self-regulation of energy intake. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83(6):1276-82.
- Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity. Lancet 2001; 357:505-8.
- Mrdjenovic G, Levitsky DA. Nutritional and energetic consequences of sweetened drink consumption in 6- to 13-year-old children. J Pediatr 2003; 142:604-10.