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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.

DO:

  • 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

DON’T:

  • 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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Introducing…

The      Dinner      Bar

No, this is not a new restaurant, or a drinking establishment, or a meal replacement bar.

This is a new, monthly feature on Just The Right Byte!

Each month, Just The Right Byte will feature family-friendly, quick, and healthy meals that will please the whole family!  But, instead of a regular recipe, The Dinner Bar is a concept that your kids will love–because they are in control of what and how much they choose to eat.  You will love it too, because you get to determine the menu, without the headache of extensive cooking and preparation, and Just The Right Byte will help make sure your family meals are well-rounded and nutritious.  The Dinner Bar will always present a “square meal”, with representation of most food groups.  Simple, uncomplicated items which are easy to prepare for mom and dad, and easy for children to assemble…and yummy to eat!

Why start The Dinner Bar?  As a pediatric dietitian who works with families every day, I am frequently asked for dinner ideas that work for busy families, particular palates, and a rising sense of health-consciousness.  Families generally do well with breakfast and lunch, but get hung up on dinner.  Families are REALLY busy, with little time to cook meals, let alone plan, shop, and prepare foods at the end of the day…I know, I have one of those families!  AND, many families have children with variable appetites, taste preferences, and nutritional challenges.  Parents tell me frequently that it is SO HARD to choose a meal that will satisfy every family member’s needs, while healthy, nutritious, not overly processed, and acceptable to their children.  Plus, recipes sound good, and ARE good,  but somehow they got lost in the busy-ness of schedules and family life.  The Dinner Bar is an approach that is different!

What is The Dinner Bar?

  • Envision entree ingredients assembled on a table and each family member chooses which foods, preferred combinations, and how much they want to eat.  The Dinner Bar presents the components of the main entree as seperate, to be chosen and assembled by the eater.  The Dinner Bar will feature family-friendly dinner entrees that are fun, tasty, and engage members of all ages.
  • The Dinner Bar offers a variety of  ingredients for individuals to “build their own” entree for dinner.  Other meal items such as fruit, a veggie, grains, and milk are available to choose as well, to complete a nutritious meal.  
  • The Dinner Bar meals are easy to prepare and are based on simple, uncomplicated ingredients.
  • The Dinner Bar allows children to prepare their own meals, choosing the items they want, and in the amounts they desire, while encouraging a child’s self-regulation and promoting trust between the parent and child.
  • The Dinner Bar allows for variability in appetite and promotes a child’s capability to choose which foods they wish to eat (within what is offered) and the amount they wish to eat.
  • The Dinner Bar offers simple, healthy, FUN, and varied solutions to your crazy, busy life.
  • The Dinner Bar is a “healthy smorgasbord”, offered in a “build it yourself” atmosphere, sure to please your family.
  • The Dinner Bar is a healthy alternative to dining out, for those busy family evenings.

I hope you will enjoy this feature of Just The Right Byte!  I’ll keep it going for as long as you like it…of course, feel free to send your ideas along as well. 

Stay tuned for next week’s Dinner Bar feature:  Italian Chicken Kabobs!

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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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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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Crackers, pop-tarts, chips, fruit roll-ups, cookies…how many of these items are in your pantry?

Processed.  Manufactured. Colored. Preserved. Artificially sweetened. Added to. 

Most foods, eaten in a moderate fashion, are OK.  The problem is, we aren’t moderate about processed foods.  Why?  Because we LOVE convenience and efficiency.  Let’s face it, boxes and bags are easier to handle than pots and pans.  Easier than peelers and knives.  Especially for the busy parent (and what parent isn’t busy?), it is easier to rip into a bag or open a box for the instant gratification associated with quieting the nagging child in the backseat…or getting to your next mommy task quickly.

Processed foods may appear several times a day in the diet of a child.  School events, day care, other family homes…the exposure to processed foods can be widespread and your child’s consumption of them can mount quickly.  Many parents will express how  increasingly difficult it is to keep these manufactured foods at bay.  Not only are we tempted by the convenience, but our children think they taste good!  Do food manufacturers sprinkle “magic yummy dust” all over their products to glean taste-bud loyalty from our young people? 

Food commercials target and entice our little ones.  If you have ever shopped with a child, you see firsthand, the impact of advertising.  Children remember ad tag lines, colorful box decorations, and chummy characters.   When they will find these products in the store aisles–oh, boy! –be ready for the onslaught of begging, negotiating, promising, and all-out tantrums if you don’t buy the desired product!

What’s a parent to do?  Take charge.  Set limits.  Dialogue.

Take charge:  Determine how much processed food you will allow in your house.  If you are liberal with processed foods in the pantry–your child will be liberal in eating them.  Replace bags ‘n boxes, colors and dyes, and unidentifiable ingredients with satisfying “real food” snacks such as whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, or low fat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.

Set Limits:  If bags ‘n boxes are a part of your regular diet, try adjusting your purchases and eating habits to skew to healthier foods.  Try to aim for 90% of your child’s daily intake to come from healthy, “growing” foods such as low fat dairy, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Leave the remaining 10% for “fun foods”–think soda, cookies, chips, and candy.  Placing the emphasis on healthy foods and allowing occasional and small amounts of “fun foods” keeps the balance in favor of good nutrition.

Dialogue:  Create opportunities to talk with your child about healthy foods and not-so healthy foods.  Differentiate the two,  keeping a neutral attitude.  Emphasize foods that come from the earth and those in their natural state.  While the temptation to eliminate and label processed foods as “bad” may exist, it is better to acknowledge their presence, taste, and usage on an occasional basis, so that your child will be able to navigate the wide world of food as he gets older.

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Feeding is an art.   Doing it well is a challenge.  And it is something most of us, as parents, are not trained to do…just something we plunge into..with barely time to come up for air and ask, “Are we doing this right?”

We are feeders from the moment our child is born.  In deciding to breast-feed or bottle feed, we make our very first feeding decision.  We determine how much–on demand vs. on a schedule, 3 ounces vs. 4 ounces—the decisions are at every corner, looming.  These choices can consume our thoughts, make us race to the web to get the latest opinion, and confer with friends to discuss our options —because we know in our hearts that these ARE important choices—and we want to do the very best for our child.

Around every milestone, we are faced with another cornerstone decision.  Should I make my baby food?  Or use organic?  Should I avoid sweets?  For how long?  Is it OK to have dessert every night?  How much is too much?  How about fast food–we are just so busy–is it OK?  We hardly see each other during the week–how many times did you say we should eat together?  As the world turns, the decisions are made, day after day, sometimes with great consideration, and sometimes on a whim.

Feeding really matters.  It is an art to have your kitchen stocked with healthy food, an art to prepare a meal that satisfies all palates, an art to introduce varied and ethnic foods, and an art to raise healthy kids in a confusing, diet-obsessed world.  Every decision about feeding counts.

Feeding is an art.  Pay attention to those feeding decisions–they ARE important.  If you need more information–seek to be educated.  Just as an artist practices her craft, day in and day out, so must a feeder.  Creating, perfecting, re-vamping, eliminating–not perfectly perfect, but close enough.  If you practice and become a great feeder, you will create a wonderful masterpiece eater!

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Feeding children is one of the greatest responsibilities a parent has…and the most repetetive, challenging, and sometimes mundane chore.  As our society’s obsession to be fit and trim is increasingly imposed upon our children, we, as parents, are faced with confusing and conflicting messages about proper feeding, healthful foods, and optimal levels of nutrition.  How do parents respond to this evolving and unattainable standard of perfect nutrition?   Often times, with restrictive feeding.  With good intention, of course–to give our kids just the right foods, in the right amounts, so that they get every nutrient they could possibly need, in the right amounts, so that they are just the right size and shape.  Sound familiar? 

What is restrictive feeding?  In a nutshell, controlling every little bite that goes into your much-loved child.  Controlling portions (think pre-portioned plates), purchasing diet, low-calorie, or fat-free manufactured foods, and limiting second helpings at the dinner table–these are all signs of restrictive feeding.   This practice, on a regular basis, can lead to a backlash of overeating, often away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Why?  Because kids may feel deprived when they don’t have the freedom to control what and how much they eat–and they may be hungrier than you think. 

Research indicates that restrictive feeding is NOT working for our children and may be promoting an environment of overeating.  Most interestingly, not only do these studies link restrictive feeding practices to weight gain, they also link parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight to restrictive feeding behaviors, not unlike those mentioned above.  In other words, if you think your child is “big” or gaining too much weight, you are more likely to control every little bite they eat.  And like adults, kids want what they can’t or don’t have–it’s human nature–but unlike adults, kids have less control over their biological drive to eat.  This situation can be a set-up for “overeating on the sly”, ultimately derailing a child’s sense of honesty with themselves and their parents,  eroding their self-esteem, and potentially promoting a culture of disordered eating.

Choosing WHAT we feed our children will always be important to their ultimate health.  WHAT we feed really matters. 

But, perhaps we need to begin paying more attention to HOW we feed our young’uns.  Remember, providing an abundant table of healthy food is both satisfying to the eye and to the tummy.  Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness too.  And maybe feeling emotionally and physically full is what it takes to stop a backlash of overeating in our children.

Which leads to my next post…WHAT you feed matters!

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