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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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In a society that places a high focus on food (both healthy and unhealthy), it’s easy to get mired in the black and white thinking of “good foods, bad foods”. Parents easily fall into this trap while they are in the midst of  “getting food right” for their kids. And boy, does the job of “getting food right” get confusing for everyone!

What if we changed the language we use?  What if we try to label foods in a positive manner, so that kids can grasp what we are trying to teach them without fear and negativity?

Fun Foods taste good but need limits.

Enter the concept of FUN FOOD.

FUN FOODS are foods that are yummy (and sometimes irresistible), usually due to their sweet, fatty and/or salty taste.

Examples are birthday cake, cupcakes, cookies, soda, candy, chips and fried foods. FUN FOODS tend to be generous in calories, low in nutrition and naturally alluring (think about those pleasure-seeking taste buds–sweet, salt, and fat).

Parents tell me that FUN FOODS are everywhere, and they fear that FUN FOODS are becoming a mainstay in their kids’ diets. No longer just a treat at birthday parties, FUN FOODS are making regular appearances at school, church, and sporting events. While I am all for fun, too many FUN FOODS can get some kiddos into trouble.

Do you ever feel that FUN FOODS are invading your child’s daily plate?

If you answered ‘yes’, then you (and your kids) need a rule to live by! One that can keep the fun in food without ruining anyone’s health.

Enter the 90:10 RULE, a concept that many families find useful in tapering the influence of FUN FOODS.

It goes like this:

90% of what kids eat during the day is good-for-you, growing food (a balance and variety of foods from the MyPyramid guide: lean protein sources, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains)— and the other 10% is FUN FOOD.

For most healthy kids, a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than 1-2 FUN FOODS each day. Kids can understand this concept—and the best part– allowing kids to choose which FUN FOOD they will eat. Take a look:

     Sally knows that she will have the opportunity to have donuts after church on Sunday, as well as cake and ice cream at the afternoon birthday party she is attending.  Following the 90:10 Rule, she opts for cake and ice cream at the party and skips the donuts at church.  Good choice, Sally!

     Brent is playing baseball this afternoon and as tradition has it, he grabs a slushy drink.  He passes on the bowl of ice cream later that night, remembering he chose his FUN FOOD earlier that day. Home run, Brent!

The 90:10 RULE encourages kids to make choices and set limits on the amount of less-than-healthy foods they eat. It helps them pause and think through what they will eat during the day, and gives them an opportunity to think ahead and practice decision-making skills with eating.

As parents, we know there are endless options for FUN FOODS throughout the day. Eliminating FUN FOODS all together is a recipe for mutiny. Balancing FUN FOODs with GROWING FOODs is really the key to successful, healthy eating.

And kids need to be able to navigate the world of food.  Among the vast variety of FUN FOODS, the 90:10 RULE is a rule to live by for kids. It allows them to be in charge of choosing the FUN FOOD which is most important to them. And it helps them to set their own limits while learning to balance their eating.

For parents who want to know more about the role they can play in managing their kid’s sweets, check out the advice over at Raise Healthy Eaters.

What guidelines do you use to put a positive twist on managing FUN FOODS?

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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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I love vacation, and recently I enjoyed some vacation time with my family.  I thought about food (of course, I always have my eye on what is going on with children, food, and eating!) and how we change our eating patterns while we are on vacation. Long ago, it used to bother me when my husband would go to the grocery store and purchase MANY FOODS that we normally didn’t eat at home.  I would feel worried. Worried that all the good measures I had taken at home to assure our four children were being fed healthfully would be erased by the presence of white bread, sugar wafers, and potato chips. In those early years of vacationing, what was stocked in the kitchen on vacation was often a bone of contention between me and my husband.

But, I think my husband was on to something, and I have to say that I have come to agree with his attitude about vacation and food.  And it has paid off in spades with our children. One of the things we all look forward to when we leave for vacation is our “vacation food”.

Vacation is a break from the usual routine.  Sleeping patterns change (I sleep later,and without an alarm clock!), exercise habits change, and eating schedules and foods are different. A break from shopping, cooking, and healthy meal planning is something I relish.  The children also get a break from the usual foods we eat, and get to indulge in foods that are not regularly purchased.

While we all savor foods like Pepperidge Farm White Bread, Cocoa Puffs, sugar wafers, chips, and more ice cream than usual, we also incorporate more fish, farm fresh vegetables, and fruit into our “vacation diet”. When I step back and weigh the balance and totality of what our family is eating, in general, it is still balanced…just the components have changed.

I see a benefit from shifting the overall eating pattern and embracing “less than healthy” foods on vacation, as well as the healthier, local, seasonal food items.  For the healthier options, allowing your child an opportunity to try other foods and expand their repertoire is always a good thing. On the other hand, offering “less than healthy” foods allows your child to have what is often tightly controlled at home, or infrequently available.  This escape from the usual food routine may help your child be relaxed about food and eating, as they learn that there is a time and place for ALL foods.  They may also learn to appreciate the act of balancing all kinds of foods, both healthy and not so healthy. Taking a vacation from the normal food routine can be an investment in your child’s future attitude about food balance, moderation and variety.

Here is the payoff for my family:  By the time vacation is finished, we are all happy to have had the break and ready for a return to the normal food routine.  As quoted by my 13 year old daughter on our recent summer vacation, “Mom, I miss your bread.”  Enough said.

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The right state of mind is important in making better dining decisions.  Try teaching your kids the techniques below to help them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.  And adopting them yourself will make you an even better role model for better living.

Become a Food Group Guru.  Learning the foods that your children should be eating each day, and their appropriate portion sizes, will help them make healthier choices at any meal, anywhere, anytime.  Arm them with nutrition knowledge!

Moderation, Not Deprivation.  It is okay for kids to have their favorite tasty treats every now and then.  Order small portions of the most indulgent foods and larger portions of healthy ones to provide balance to their meals.  Shoot for 90% healthy foods and 10% “fun” foods.

Break Bad Habits.  Ask your children if they are really hungry for their usual after-dinner chocolate or mid-afternoon soda, or if they’re just used to having those foods at that time every day.  If not, then encourage them to pass on the treat, or suggest replacing it with healthier habits. 

Think Ahead.  Many restaurants have menus available on-line, often with nutrition information.  Identifying the better options at your family’s favorite restaurants will give them flexibility with healthy limits. 

Slow and Steady Wins the Race.  Help your children start actively listening to their instinctual hunger and fullness cues to avoid overeating.  An intuitive eating approach can help your child self-regulate their eating.

The Power of Positive Thinking.  Focusing on the healthy foods that your family enjoys is much more productive than dwelling on the ones that you think you can’t have.  A “glass half full” mentality will make a healthy lifestyle easier to maintain long-term.  Also try to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, as this can distort your child’s view of them.

The Satisfaction of Sharing.  Treats, such as decadent desserts, can be shared with the whole table so that everyone can indulge without overindulging.  Some restaurants even offer family-style dining, which is an optimal feeding method for raising healthy eaters.

Dear Diary.  Food journaling is a great way to put your child’s eating habits into perspective, for you and them.  It can also offer some accountability.  Write down their food intake, physical activity, and thoughts and moods throughout the day for some insight into the impact their lifestyle has on their wellbeing.

Enjoying food in a healthy way is all about finding a balance that works for your family.  Balancing immediate pleasure with long-term health.  Balancing healthy foods with the occasional treat.  Balancing calories eaten with calories burned.  Balancing food groups at each meal.  Balancing restaurant dining with home cooking.  Balance in any area is the key to maintaining your child’s happiness and wellness throughout life– body, mind, and soul. 

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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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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We are all role models to children.  Parents, especially, are under the watchful eye of their child.  How you behave, what you choose, your habits—both good and bad, influence a child each day.  And how you manage your body—what you eat, when and how much you eat, your activity level or lack thereof, all register with children and can set the foundation for a future of healthy eating and an active lifestyle, or not.

Parents have the unique responsibility of being the primary role model for their child when it comes to food and eating behaviors.  By the time a child is twelve years old, they will model many parental behaviors in this area.  So, if you are a meal skipper, chances are your child may be too.  If you diet off and on, so may your child grow up and do the same.  If you refuse certain foods or eliminate them from your diet, your child may adopt these practices also.  If you spend a lot of time watching television, don’t be surprised if your child comes home and plops in front of the TV, Nintendo DS, or laptop. 

It can be overwhelming to realize your child is looking at your behavior every day!  Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you consider your model behavior:

Trust your child to honor their hunger and fullness and eat the right amounts for their body.  Trust your child’s inner intuition about eating.  Trust that you can learn from your child’s natural self-regulation.  This foundation of trust will serve you and your child through the ups and downs of growth, body development, and eating in the future.

Predictability is the key to a happy child.  Set up a framework for meals and snacks—time them at regular intervals to avoid over-hunger.  Structure your meals to have most of the food groups represented, most of the time.  Offering fruit at every meal is a great way to ensure healthy eating and build predictability in mealtimes.  Predictability builds security—food security.  A child who is secure with food and eating tends to have fewer problems with weight and eating later in life.

Choose food for health.  Focus on foods that are rich in nutrients, fiber, and taste.  Choose more whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.  Consider processed foods, food colorings and dyes, caffeine, and sugar substitutes as the “occasional food”, rather than a staple in your family’s diet.  If the drive through is a common stop on your way home, envision another way to bring convenience and efficiency to your eating—try a crock-pot,  a pressure cooker, or homemade frozen entrees instead.

Expose your child to a variety of foods.  Ensure that new foods accompany familiar foods.  Try ethnic varieties, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables, and flavorful condiments.  Try different forms of familiar foods—instead of French fries, try roasted potatoes.  Instead of applesauce, try baked apples.  Don’t rule out a food because you think your child won’t like it—and don’t paint a grim face if you do offer it—stay neutral and trust your child to let you know their impression.

Adventure in eating is fun for kids. Show your sense of eating adventure by having a “new menu item” night during the week.  An openness to “try anything” also shows adventure in eating—let your child see the adventurous eater in you!

Move your body—daily.  If you want your child to be active, you need to be active too.  Show your enjoyment and enthusiasm for exercise!

Share your food.  This is a safe way for your young child to try new food items and a way to build trust and security with food and eating.  Sharing food sends the very basic and important message of generosity.

Communicate early and often with your child about food, eating, nutrients, health, and physical activity.  Promoting open and honest communication about nutrition will set a foundation of trust, health education, and realism in the world of food and eating.  Remember, children are curious and will ask the questions—let them know early on that you are their resource for reliable information.

Manners are important and beginning early with the basic “please and thank you” is a great place to start.  Make sure you “please” and “thank” your child early on—and you will be pleasantly surprised when you hear it stated, unsolicited from their mouths.  Practice common table manners—it pays off before you know it.

Role Modeling is not a choice for a parent—it comes with the territory.  Choosing to be a great role model with food and eating will reap lifetime rewards in your child’s food choices, eating behaviors, exercise patterns, and overall health.  Remember, your child is watching your every move.  Your moves don’t have to be perfect—just thoughtful and intended toward a healthful and active child.

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