Archive for February, 2010

How can regular meals and snacks influence childhood obesity?  Believe it or not, the rhythm of meals and snacks is an important defense against childhood obesity.  Regular meals and snacks help children get the myriad requirement of nutrients in their diet on a daily basis and helps normalize the hunger cycle.  Very young children require three meals and up to three snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs for growth and development.  Older, school age children and teens need 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day.  Requiring 40 nutrients daily, all children benefit from balanced and regular meals and snacks. 

What are balanced meals?  Meals that represent most food groups, and a variety of foods within each food group.  Translated:  offer most food groups at each meal and don’t offer the same foods over and over–mix it up so that your child gets exposed to a number of different nutrients throughout the day.  A general rule of thumb is to offer at least 3-4 food groups at meals, and at least 1-2 food groups at snack time.

What are rhythmic meals and snacks?  Meals and snacks that are provided in a structured, regular fashion.   It is good for children to have a structure to their day, and with meals and snacks, this holds true.  Whatever timing suits your family schedule will work for your child too.  What doesn’t work well with children, is unorganized chaos when it comes to food and eating.  Try to set a general schedule for when meals and snacks will happen in your home.  Breakfast in the morning, lunch at mid-day, an afterschool snack, and a dinner at a predictable time.   Generally, feeding intervals of 3-4 hours seem to be most effective in preventing too much hunger and overeating in children.  Also, the emotional response from a child who is unsure about when he/she will be eating can build over time into an insecurity about food and eating and a distrust of the parental provider.  This may be manifested in fast eating, preoccupation with food, frequent questioning about timing and content of meals, and “sneak eating” or overeating.

Not unlike dancing, keep your meals and snacks flowing during the day to a beat…timed intervals of 3 to 4 hours.  Especially during the younger years, this rhythm will build predictability and security around food and eating, and help keep undesirable behaviors, such as overeating, at bay.

Whether you are two-steppin’ or four-squarin’, you can promote rhythm in your child’s eating experiences by staying on beat.  With feeding, this takes a little bit of planning, and  practice.   The results? A child with normalized eating behaviors and less fixation on food.  Yee-haw!  Doesn’t that sound worth it?!  Why Weight?


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We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.”  Is your child the proportions of his/her portions?  Research shows that increased portion sizes may be associated with childhood obesity because calorie intake also increases.  In fact, 40 years ago, the size of the largest fast food burger, fries, and soda is the same size as the smallest meal available today.  These super-sized meals may be super-sizing our kids. 

Perception deception The way our children (and parents) view food is influenced by savvy marketers, in part.  Views also reflect a history with food and eating, current trends in nutrition, cravings, and peer influences.  Don’t believe everything you see and hear about food— the term “healthy” can be over-used and misleading.   Eat at home as often as possible, and be sure to sift through nutrition information by using credible sources, such as a Registered Dietitian (RD).   

I can’t get no…satisfaction  Studies have shown that, despite an increase in calories, bigger portions don’t help kids feel full and don’t result in less eating later.  Also, foods that are low in nutrients (empty calories) don’t satisfy in the long run, and sometimes cause increased hunger later.  Focus on providing nutrient-dense foods regularly, so that these become the staple of your child’s diet. 

Proper portions  The USDA provides consumers with a guideline for portions.  Be sure to look at the child-specific guidelines—they are different than the adult-based ones.   Also, beware of words that warn of portion distortion– value meal, combo, ultimate, tub, supreme, biggie, deluxe, and super-size—it may be tempting to think more is better, but in this case, more is more calories.

To ration, or not to ration? Teaching your child to be aware of portions is important.  Helping them visualize amounts can be positive, but measuring them can soon become negative, if restrictive.  Family-style feeding  appears to be more conducive to normalized portions and eating patterns, than pre-plating your child’s meal.  Picture these to help kids choose healthy portions:

  • a deck of cards for meat or fish
  • 3 dice for cheese
  • a lightbulb for rice and pasta
  • a baseball for fruits/veggies, milk, and breakfast cereals
  • a poker chip for oils, salad dressings, and other fats
  • a hockey puck for biscuits and muffins
  • a CD for waffles and pancakes

Step up to the plate– Serve meals on smaller dishes to create the perception of a full plate.  Creative ideas like bento boxes  and condiment cups in measured sizes can also be a fun and easy way to serve kids at school and home.  Take the guesswork out of meal portions by following this portion plate guideline:  divide your meal plate like this:  ½ fruits and vegetables, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 whole grains.

Why Weight?  to begin teaching your child about normal portion sizes and to make your child aware of restaurant/fast food portion traps?   Arm your child with accurate perception and awareness when it comes to food portions—YOU can help your child determine portion reality—before they bite.  Why Weight?


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Come out, come out, wherever you are!  Sometimes choosing foods with healthy amounts of fat can seem like a game of hide and seek.  While some sources are obvious, others can be hiding undetected in some of your kids’ favorite foods.  Research shows that dietary fat intake is associated with higher incidence of obesity in children, and many children and teens consume more fat than recommended for health.  With a few simple tips, anyone can uncover fat’s favorite hot spots. 

 The Skinny on Fats– Fat is a valuable part of your child’s health.  They provide essential fatty acids (those not made by the body), carry fat- soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and are a concentrated energy (calorie) source.  However, gram for gram, fat supplies more than double the calories of carbohydrates and protein.  Translated:  A diet rich in fat tends to be high in calories and can promote weight gain.  Be thoughtful and selective when choosing the amounts and types of fat for your child’s diet.

 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  Unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans-saturated fats, respectively.  Many foods contain fat.  However, the amount and type found in each food can vary.  Fruits, vegetables, and grains naturally contain minimal fat. Dairy products, meats, nuts, and convenience foods tend to have a higher fat content. Not all fats are created equal–the type of fat your child eats can be a healthy influence on his diet, or not.  Look below for sources of healthy fats to emphasize in your child’s diet and sources to minimize. 

 Emphasize: Mono-unsaturated fats 

  • olive, canola, and nut oils
  • avocados, olives, almonds, and peanut butter

 Emphasize: Poly-unsaturated fats  

  • fish
  • sunflower seeds
  • most nuts
  • corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and sesame oils.

 Minimize: Saturated fats

  • meat (trim fat and choose lean cuts)
  • poultry (remove skin)
  • whole-milk dairy products (choose low-fat or fat-free)
  • butter, shortening, lard, and palm and coconut oils

 Minimize: Trans-saturated fats 

  • baked goods, crackers, chips, and other shelf-stable pre-packaged items
  • some margarines
  • fried and fast foods cooked in solid fats

Look before you leap:  Young children (2-3 years) need about 30-35% of their total calories from fat and older children (up to age 18 years) need anywhere from 25-35% of calories for normal growth and development.  An exception is made for infants, who need an even higher fat content in their diet for normal brain development.  You don’t have to be a mathematician to make healthy choices for your child.  Read the nutrition facts label on food packages– there you will find the percentage of calories from fat, the amounts of healthy and unhealthy fats in the product, and an ingredient list for the product recipe.   Helpfully, the ingredient label lists the food ingredients in descending order of weight. A good rule of thumb:  Limit eating foods which get a lot of calories from fat.  And, as always, pay attention to serving sizes.

Fat can be a normal and healthy part of every child’s diet.  But too much fat can lead to excessive calories and weight gain.  Be a fat finder and keep these tips in mind for curbing a high fat diet:

Cut back on foods known to be high in fat–for kids, these tend to be french fries, fried foods, desserts, whole milk dairy products, convenience foods, and candy.  Choose healthier fats (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats) most of the time. Serve sauces, gravies, and dressings as a side condiment.  Don’t fall into the french fry trap—baked, roasted, and mashed potatoes are satisfying alternatives.  Out with the butter, in with the olive oil:  make healthy fat substitutions when cooking, baking, and eating.  And, be an informed consumer, read labels!

Why Weight? to be the fat finder detective, curb the “fat tooth”, and supply healthy fats in your home?  Your child’s health will love it!


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Forget the old adage “less is more”.  When it comes to fruits and vegetables, “more is less”.  Focusing on more nutrients, fiber, servings, and colors can mean a healthier weight for your child and less tendencies toward obesity and its’ complications.  

There are a lot of quick and easy ways to turn your kids into lean, mean, fruit and veggie-eating machines!   

Don’t be dense, use common sense: When it comes to food choices, fruits and vegetables are a no-brainer.  They are nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense, which allows you to eat more than almost any other food.  And, you get the added benefit of fiber, a nutrient that promotes satisfaction after a meal. Two cups of fruits or veggies contain a similar amount of calories as a 100-calorie snack pack, minus the added fat and sugar. 

Look at the “whole” picture:  Experts recommend that children get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.   This can be accomplished by adding a serving of fruit to every meal, and a vegetable to at least 2 meals or snacks.  Talk about convenience!  Fruits and veggies are the original convenience foods– pre-packaged, pre-portioned, and portable.  Check out the many forms of produce available in supermarkets today.  You’ll get more fiber from whole produce, but frozen, canned in natural juices, juiced, dried, and even freeze-dried fruits and vegetables are great options, too. 

Taste the rainbow: Choosing a wide variety of color for your child’s diet is the best way to ensure that they get a wide variety of key nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are a natural way to add color.  Vary your colors each day and within each meal.

Perception Deception: It’s all about the way you look at things.  Food should provide pleasure, not pain.  Approach eating fruits and vegetables with a positive attitude and your kids will follow suit. Focus on what you get to eat instead of what you think you can’t eat. A healthy outlook and attitude are just as important as healthy behaviors. Studies have shown that focusing on increasing fruits and vegetables is drastically more effective than focusing on eating foods with lower fat and sugar.

Patience is a virtue: The name of the game is exposure.  It may take as many as 10-20 exposures to a new food before your child will find it acceptable.  So if you are trying a new veggie, don’t despair.  Ask them to try a bite, but don’t force them to eat it if they don’t want to.  Just try again another day, or with another food.

Double Duty- The Role Model and Gatekeeper:  Leading by example is the most effective way to change your child’s behavior.  If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, then you need to model this behavior.  Likewise, you are the decision-maker when it comes to purchasing food—if you want more fruits and veggies to be eaten, make sure you have ample choices in the kitchen.

Why Weight? to bring more fruits and vegetables into your home and add satisfying, healthy foods to your child’s diet?  Why Weight?  to take yet another step toward helping your child be healthy?  It’s up to YOU.


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