Children (as well as adults) use food for reasons other than satisfying their hunger and nutritional needs. In fact, overweight young people often eat in response to their emotions and feelings.
This is a common phenomenon, which begins at birth. Breast milk or infant formula usually responds to a baby’s crying or irritability, and feeding becomes a way to calm and soothe him. At birthdays and parties, when children are surrounded by their family and feel loved, they often receive cookies or other desserts that become the symbol of this love and care.
These days, when your own child is feeling anxious, perhaps because of an upcoming math test or because they’re being teased at school, they may turn to food to feel better. . However, there are many reasons other than comfort that can prompt children to eat.
Does your child reach for food when in any of the following situations?
Even though food can become a better companion for your child, the result may not be quite what he expected. Ironically, if he is eating too much to alleviate feelings of insecurity or depression, for example, or perhaps because he is stressed about an oral report he has to do at school, he may still feel worse after a binge, knowing that it can make her weight problem worse. Even before the food is digested, he may feel guilt or shame.
In fact, one of your biggest parenting challenges is figuring out with your child if he’s eating for the right reasons. Ask yourself questions such as: Does he eat at times other than usual meals and snacks? Does he nibble at every opportunity?
Avoid rewarding children with food.
Some parents are unwittingly contributing to their children’s obesity by rewarding them with food (does an A on a test sometimes result in a visit to the local ice cream parlor?) There are other, healthier ways to praise and reward children. For a young child, how about giving them some stickers as a reward, or maybe scheduling a shopping trip to buy a toy or a new pair of shoes?
Don’t overlook the importance of verbal praise. When your child does things right, tell them. Notice how words of approval can boost her self-esteem and help her stay motivated to continue making the right decisions for her health and weight. Even if he’s having trouble sticking to his diet, look for other ways to praise him (“You walked a mile today, that’s awesome!”). Encourage him to keep going, and even if he complains every once in a while (“I want a pop, not ice water”), encourage him to stay the course.
Promote good eating habits in children.
Follow these suggestions to help children develop good eating habits throughout their life to prevent weight-related complications:
- Establish a regular pattern of family meals. Three nutritious meals supplemented with healthy snacks are recommended.
- Discover the portion that is right for each member of the family. Serve just enough food to meet their needs, especially if a family member has difficulty regulating their weight. Portions in restaurants today are often larger than the recommended size.
- Make mealtimes and snack times enjoyable. Avoid fussing, harassing, arguing or complaining at the table. Mealtime stress can lead to emotional overeating.
- Help children find ways other than eating to manage their emotions. Although eating can provide a feeling of well-being for a while, food cannot solve problems properly.
- Plan nutritious snacks in advance. Waiting for hunger to strike before deciding what snack to eat usually leads to choosing a low-nutrition, high-calorie food.
- Involve children in designing and making nutritious snacks. Often, if they were involved in choosing or preparing the snack, they will be more likely to eat it.
- Offer snacks that are high in nutrients relative to calories. Stock the kitchen with nutritious, low-calorie, easy-to-take snacks. Fruits, raw vegetables, milk, juice, and vanilla wafers are good choices. Store prepared fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. Fruits, carrots, celery, cauliflower, etc. can be washed under cool running water and cut ready to eat.
- Place healthy snack foods where children can see them. Let the fruit
- Teach kids to eat when they’re hungry, not out of boredom or because they saw a coated snack commercial on TV.