Posts Tagged ‘childhood nutrition’

Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.


  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation


  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


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Did you know that child development influences how well your child eats? Picky eating, copying friends, independence, and risky behaviors are all normal behaviors during the course of childhood. Yes, NORMAL behaviors. Children move through these predictable and often frustrating phases as they grow into adulthood.

Yet, many parents find themselves embattled and struggling with their child, particularly with feeding and eating.

Messy eating is a normal part of child development

Why the Struggle and Strife?

Parents are missing out on information about typical childhood development. Not only are they missing this information, child development hasn’t been tied to eating behaviors or highlighted as a driving force behind eating. But child development is an important piece to the puzzle of feeding kids and kids’ eating.

Parents Need to Know What is on the Road Ahead.

And that’s what this series is all about: helping you get a handle on what to expect during each of your child’s developmental phases and most importantly, how it effects your child’s eating, the way you feed him, and his overall well-being.

In this series I will present each stage of child development, starting with infancy, moving through toddlerhood and school-age, and ending with adolescence.  I will move sequentially through the stages, helping you understand how each developmental stage builds upon the next. And I will show you the ties that bind development and eating so that you can figure out the mysteries behind food preferences, desires and behaviors.

School-age children are ready to learn skills in the kitchen

Why Am I Convinced this is Need-to-Know Information for Parents?

Knowledge provides insight. Knowing what to expect and what is normal during each development stage will help you respond to your child in a positive and healthy manner. For example, when you know a tornado is coming, you prepare your home, take cover and weather the storm in a relatively relaxed manner. This knowledge allows you to respond appropriately– this bodes true for feeding your child through the expected storms of childhood development, as well.

Knowledge provides opportunity. Knowing what to expect lets you grasp opportunities to teach and promote your child’s skills. Knowing where your child sits along the spectrum of development will help you decide when it is best to begin and advance cooking skils, how and what to teach about nutrition and allow for independent food choices. And it will also help you be realistic–if you expect your preschooler to bake a cake, you may be frustrated and disappointed. Likewise, if you hold back the school-age child who wants to bake, he may be frustrated with you!

Knowledge minimizes negative interactions. Sometimes, parents and children do struggle. In this series, I will also give you some pearls of wisdom for how to interact with your child in a developmentally-sensitive manner. All in the hopes of equipping you with foresight and knowledge so that you can remain level-headed and calm, and frustration can be minimized for all.

We all know what happens when you’re not prepared or don’t have a sense of what is normal…you may panic!  And panic can lead to rash decisions, knee-jerk reactions and negative interactions with your child. We want to keep things positive, especially around food and eating.

Navigate Nutrition Successfully.

This requires knowing your child’s development and how it is affecting their eating. While some of these normal developmental stages will still feel frustrating at times, it’s how you respond and handle them which is your barometer for success.

I hope you will feel equipped with your new knowledge: able to recognize that some behaviors are simply normal, handle the difficult ones with positivity… and be ready for the next barrage of behaviors.

Stay tuned for the first part of the series: Your Child’s Development: Infancy!

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I am not  a fan of diets.  They don’t work.  Especially with kids.

Many adults argue that a calorie-restricted diet is just the nudge they need to launch their new eating habits and the resulting weight loss they desire. But for kids, restrictive approaches to weight management just don’t seem to work well. Maybe it’s the aspect of hunger, or the emotional responses that erupt, the growth influence, or just human nature that complicates weight loss for kids.  I suspect many adults would agree that some of these obstacles exist for them when using restriction as a diet attitude.  Maybe that’s why ‘diets’ aren’t working in a lasting way for adults.

We know that there are significant risks associated with dieting in teens, such as increased eating disorders and disordered eating, continued weight gain despite efforts at weight loss, and lowered self-esteem.  Diets dish up a mind-set of  “I can’t have this…”.  Human nature shows us that when we cannot have something we want, we want it even more…in the case of dieting and children, you can see where this path leads to: overeating. Having worked with many children and teens who need and begin the path to a healthier weight, I know first-hand how difficult and frustrating the process can be. And how much time it can take.

But I am here to tell you, be patient, healthy weight loss takes time. Especially for kids.

As we all get ready to begin the year 2011, I have compiled an analogy to describe the process and patience required for you and your child as you better your eating habits and your lifestyle.  It’s the Garden-Planting Analogy. I won’t get into the details of foods, portions, exercise, TV/screen time here, because you can find that in my Why Weight? blog series from last year, and the Family Pocket Guide that resulted from the blog.

Real change takes time. Whether it’s starting a new exercise routine, trying to be a better mom or dad, or getting to church regularly, making real change in your life requires a commitment to practice new behaviors every day. This is true for new health behaviors as well.  So how is planting a garden similar to waiting for weight loss? Let’s take a look, step by step:

The Garden-Planting Analogy

STEP 1: Prepare the soil Just like you prepare the ground to plant your crops, your child’s body must prepare for weight loss. This means getting rid of excess nutrients (like calories, sugar, and fat) and including nutrients that are missing from their diet.  Start a movement program that your child (and family) can stick with.

STEP 2: Plant the seeds Seeds are the nuggets of information from which change can root and thrive. Educate your child with credible nutrition advice that includes what to eat, hunger management, and fun, healthy activity. Educate yourself with how to feed your child, using positive attitudes and actions that include role modeling, daily movement, and meal routines that support healthy eating.

STEP 3: Water regularly Crops die without regular water and nutrients.  So will your efforts at weight loss if you don’t pay attention to your healthy behaviors every day. Practice good nutrition, adequate sleep and physical activity daily.

STEP 4: Wait for the roots to take hold Herein lies the frustration.  We want to plant the seeds and see an immediate garden.  But you and I know, an abundant garden requires daily care.  This same nurturing and care-taking is needed for child weight loss too.  It takes time for nutrition education and daily health practices to synchronize and internalize. Practice your health management techniques everyday, and wait.

STEP 5: Watch the plants bloom and grow Before you know it, a plant sprouts and takes hold.  The same will happen with your family efforts for better health. Soon, kids will be sleeping better, be more active, and eat healthier. And the scale will begin to move (or stay the same, depending on the weight goals for your child).  But even better than that, your family will have practiced and adopted skills and health behaviors that can last a lifetime!

A cup of  “Good things come to those who wait” blended with a pound of  “Practice makes perfect” and you’ll have a recipe with the right attitude, level of commitment, and patience to see your child (and your whole family) succeed with weight loss.

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Recent studies indicate that up to 77% of freshman college students gain an average of 4-8# during their first year of college.  This is much less than the reputed “15#” that many new college students fear, yet the weight impact appears to be fairly global among males and females, according to a 2009 study published in Preventive Medicine. 

How prepared is your high school senior for the college food experience?  Heading off to college is a life-altering experience and is filled with new found freedoms.  No curfew, no parental forces to check in with, and no limits on what and how much one can eat and drink.  Food freedom is a welcomed relief for some freshmen, and many first year college students thrive with this independence.  However, some rising freshmen worry about this freedom, fearing weight gain, and clueless with the prospect of balancing food independence and  feeding themselves well. 

What feeding skills do emerging college students need? 

  • Knowledge of the types of food that promote health
  • Recognition of  fullness and satisfaction with eating, both physically and emotionally
  • Knowledge of portion sizes 
  • Ability to balance and select food groups so that key nutrients are present in the diet
  • Setting a meal and snack schedule so that extremes in hunger and fullness are avoided, and nutrient needs are met
  • Food preparation skills
  • Food safety basics

Your teen may not have these skills.  Why?  Nutrition education isn’t a stronghold in the educational system of our country yet.  Simply stated, children and teens aren’t receiving consistent messaging and knowledge about nutrition. Some of what they do know is gleaned from magazines, the media, and their peers, which may not be reliable resources.  Also, parents are often “in charge” of meal selection and preparation, leaving teens inexperienced in this area.  Many parents still “plate” their teenager’s meals; this controlled approach can lead to larger portions when teens become truly independent eaters in college.  Lastly, college schedules may be chaotic and unpredictable, causing erratic eating patterns.  All these factors can combine to create a food firestorm, encouraging disorganized patterns of hunger and fullness, inappropriate food choices, large portion sizes, excess caloric intake, and a cycle of dieting that may be ineffective.  The result?  Changes in weight — oftentimes in an undesirable direction.

Eating and self-feeding skills build over a child’s lifespan, and ideally, your child or teen has had a wonderful role model to reference–YOU!  If your teen does not appear to be prepared to navigate the food scene in college, help him or her become food-savvy, independent, healthy eaters, and prepared for food freedom.

  • consult with a registered dietitian (RD)–in person, online, or in the blogosphere–for basic nutrition education and cooking skill development
  • invest in or check out credible nutrition resources from the library–those written by RD’s are particularly helpful
  • seek out other reliable nutrition websites, such as the American Dietetic Association, and others on my blogroll
  • join your teen for a basic cooking class, or conduct one in your home–check out your local grocer or cooking school
  • allow your teen freedom to cook and experiment in the kitchen
  • teach your teen how to shop for food, how to read a nutrition label, and how to dine out in restaurants

Parents often assume that teens who are heading to college instinctively know this stuff…but they don’t!  Unless you have invested the time in preparing your child for independent eating at college (which ideally has been occuring throughout childhood), they may not have the skills required to maintain a stable weight and a healthy body.  The resulting situation can be upsetting for everyone.  Help your child feel confident and ready for the food freedom and independent eating that college undoubtedly provides.  Nutrition “Know-How” can be a wonderful graduation gift for your teen that can last a lifetime!

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“Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”

How many times have parents heard this classic line?  Friends, grandparents, teachers, and pediatricians use this solution for parents who are concerned with a multitude of childhood behaviors. 

  • My child is wetting the bed!  Oh, she’ll grow out of it. 
  • My child won’t eat vegetables.  Don’t worry, my child did the same…and he grew out of it!

When it comes to infant obesity, this advice may not be an effective or helpful response.  A recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics looked at a sample of infants, aged 6 months, and identified a 16% rate of obesity among them.   Babies who were obese at 6 months, were still likely to be obese at 24 months.  And so our national childhood obestity problem begins.

What causes obesity in infancy?  Although it is complicated and not fully understood, the following are potential parenting behaviors that may encourage the path toward infant obesity:

Inappropriate feeding practices:  The methods and practices in which we feed babies may contribute to obesity, such as:  adding cereal to the baby bottle to encourage a baby to sleep through the night; improper mixing of formula which may result in a concentrated calorie source; forcing an infant to “finish the bottle”; and feeding a baby “all day long” are just some of the red flags that a baby may be fed inappropriately.

Missing infant cues:  Babies let their parents know when they are full–they turn their heads away, fall asleep, or pull off the breast or bottle.  Likewise, they let their hunger be heard…by crying!  Confusing these signals or worse, ignoring them, can result in overfeeding.  Paying attention and accurately reading infant cues will help parents feed their baby enough, but not too much.

Confusing infant cues:  A crying baby doesn’t always mean a hungry baby.  Parents may be confused by their baby’s signals, misreading boredom, a wet diaper, or tiredness, for hunger.  Interpreting crying and/or discomfort as a sign of hunger can lead to overfeeding a baby.

Starting solids too early:  Many new parents feel the pressure from outside influences to introduce solids early.  Or perhaps they are under-informed about how and when to begin solid food.  The timing for solid food introduction to infants is generally between 4 and 6 months.  Following a guideline for starting solids can help parents stay on track with their baby’s nutritional needs and developmental progression.  Starting too early can pose the risk of overfeeding, and overfeeding can lead to obesity.

Lack of nutrition knowledge:  Many parents lack the information and confidence to feed their baby, and may not have the resources to seek out this information.  This lack of knowledge may lead to the presentation of unhealthy foods, an inadequate balance of the important food groups in the diet, and feeding practices that encourage excess weight gain. 

Feeding your baby, and doing it well, sets the foundation for the overall health of your baby.   In order to have a positive impact on childhood obesity, parents need to pay attention to food selection, timing, and the attitudes and actions they use in the high chair.

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Clang, Clang, Clang! 

My great-grandmother had a red bell.  And she used it to announce a very important event: Dinnertime.  A time when everyone in the family joined together, gathered around the table, and ate.  Dinnertime was a priority–all work stopped, after-school activities were over, and the phone and TV were silenced.  The family gathered and discussed the events of their day.  It was a time, in modern terms, to download, to debrief, to get centered and figure things out.  Supportive therapy?  Challenge sessions?  Debunking untruths?  Confirming beliefs?  Mealtimes were therapeutic.  Healthy and good for you in more ways than one.

Magic is possible when families gather at the meal table.  Family meals have been shown to be a powerful influence on many facets of childhood–growth, development, social adjustment, behavior, eating habits, and body weight.  Not only do family meals have a positive effect on eating healthier, they also help children maintain a healthy weight.

But that’s not all!  Read on  for the magic of family meals

Attachment:  Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe.

Behavior: Family meals are a great way to teach manners, promote communication, and prevent behavioral problems.

Reciprocity:  Conversation, both talking and listening, may be more important than what is actually served or where your family eats.

Adjustment: Children who eat with their families frequently show better social skills and ability to navigate social situations.

Confidence:  Family meals promote trust between child and parent, a key element in nurturing healthy eating.

Academics:  More family meals per week = better grades.

Development:  Healthy and positive family meals promote a healthy weight and normal growth in children.

Acquisition:  Manners are learned at the meal table–sitting down frequently allows ample teaching time and helps your child learn their manners.

Breakfast:  Any meal will do!  Dinner isn’t the only opportunity for a family meal.

Relationship: A positive relationship with food and eating is cultivated at the meal table.  This is a life-long attitude, belief, and flexibility with food that begins early.

Achievement:  The benefits of family meals are realized with 4-5 meals per week

ABRACADABRA!  It’s magical.  Why Weight?

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Parenting is no easy feat, especially when it comes to feeding your child.  Encouraging a positive attitude about food and eating, consuming nutritious foods, and cultivating a good body image are fundamental to your child’s health and well-being.  The attention you give to food selection and the process of feeding your child will lay the foundation for a future of health and body confidence.  Here are five key concepts to consider as you raise your healthy eater:

Enrich the Plate and the Palate

Children require over 40 nutrients each day.  Offering a wide variety of whole, natural foods that include low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help assure these nutrient needs are met.  Reduce consumption of processed foods and foods with artificial colorings, as these may be nutrient-poor and crowd out the necessary nutrients required by your growing child.

Focus on Family Meals

Sit down and eat together as often as you can.   Research indicates that five family meals per week may improve grades, reduce risk-taking behaviors, and prevent obesity and eating disorders.

Try family-style feeding—put  a variety of prepared food into serving dishes, pass them around the table and let everyone choose which foods they will eat and how much.  Be sure to include one or two food items that you know your child likes and is comfortable eating.  Family-style meals encourage your child to eat amounts that are right for him.

Provide, Don’t Deprive

Be a great provider!  Take care to keep your kitchen well-stocked with nutrient-rich foods.  Prepare good-tasting, healthy meals that appeal to your child.  Anticipate hunger between meals and serve healthy snacks that satisfy your child. 

Avoid being a depriver.  When it comes to your child’s appetite, be sure to respect his hunger.  Restricting or controlling how much your child eats may leave him hungry and promote overeating at other occasions.

Be Predictable and Consistent

Develop a rhythmic and timely pattern to meals and snacks, and be consistent.  Predictability and consistency helps your child keep hunger in check, be more relaxed about eating, and less fixated on food.

Watch what you say, heed what you do

Parents are the greatest influence, particularly in the first decade of life, on their child’s eating behaviors, food selections, and body image.  To raise healthy eaters, you have to be a healthy eater too!  Be a terrific role model for your child by enjoying nutritious, wholesome foods every day.  For more on role modeling, check out my expert blog post on http://www.littlestomaks.com.

Negative comments about your child’s food selections, how much or how little they eat, and how they look may hurt your child’s self esteem and body image.  At meal time, take the focus off of food and body size and enjoy a conversation about their school day or future activities on the family schedule.

Following these strategies will help you be a great feeder and raise a child who is a confident, healthy eater.

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