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5 new rules of healthy eating for kids

Posted 3/7/2016 by UHBlog

As childhood obesity runs rampant, researchers have rushed to study ways to improve kids’ diets. Their surprising conclusion? Some classic techniques, such as pushing or withholding food, just plain don’t work. Harnessing their findings can help you guide your child toward healthier eating habits.

Eva Johnson

Eva Johnson, MD
Pediatrician, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Clinical Instructor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

  1. Old: Clean your plate.
    New: Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.

    “Stay right there until you eat that last bite of broccoli.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, ultimatums do not encourage adequate vegetable intake. In fact, they can backfire, as kids learn to pair healthy dishes with anger and frustration.

    Bodies come equipped with natural systems to regulate food intake – hunger and fullness. Instead of overriding them with food pressure, encourage kids to put down their forks once they are satisfied. “Don’t fret if they do not eat much at one meal. If their bodies need more energy, they will likely make it up at the next,” says Eva Johnson, MD, a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “If you have ongoing concerns about their eating habits, check with your child’s doctor or a dietitian.”

  2. Old: Closely monitoring each morsel.
    New: Offering healthful options.

    On the flip side, parents of heavy kids may attempt to restrict their child’s intake. While it is true that many children overdo it, micromanaging your toddler or teen’s diet does not actually work.

    “Instead of focusing on what kids should not eat, give them ample opportunities to make good choices,” suggests Dr. Johnson. The more fruits and vegetables you offer throughout the day, the more kids will consume, research shows. Keep in mind they may need time to warm up to new options. Children might need to try a new food 15 times before accepting it – but eventually, they can learn to love it.

  3. Old: Banning kids from the kitchen.
    New: Involving everyone in healthy meals.

    True, hazards like sharp knives, boiling water and dangling cords require vigilance. Keep safety in mind, but invite children of all ages to play a role in food selection and preparation.

    “When each person lends a hand, family meals become easier,” adds Dr. Johnson. “Kids will feel invested in healthful choices. And you will have ample time to discuss the pros and cons of different foods in a relaxed setting. For instance, while you dream up new ways to cook veggies, talk about how good they taste and how strong and smart their nutrients can make you.”

  4. Old: Skipping dessert.
    New: Balancing “sometimes” foods with healthier choices.

    If kids took every opportunity to indulge in sweets or unhealthy snacks, they would definitely end up on the wrong side of the obesity equation. However, taking treats completely off the table can rob kids of joy, and might make group situations awkward and uncomfortable for your child.

    Calling treats “sometimes” foods can help you keep them in their proper place. When your kids face choices at events like parties, teach them to take one indulgence along with several nutritious options. That way, both their bodies and minds are satisfied.

  5. Old: Needling kids about their weight.
    New: Modeling healthy, positive habits.

    Making negative comments about your child’s size – or others’, including your own – can harm kids’ body image. Though obesity does pose health risks, families should focus more on living a healthy lifestyle than on numbers or appearances, experts say.

    Set an example by eating more fruits and veggies yourself. “And model other aspects of a healthful lifestyle too, from staying active, to sleeping enough, to maintaining a positive relationship with food and your body,” Dr. Johnson adds.

5 new rules of healthy eating for kids

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