Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
This week, Registered Dietitian Laurie Beebe recommends a simple method to stop your child from overeating and develop long-term healthy eating habits.
Question: How can I model healthy eating behavior for my kids without emphasizing ‘dieting’ at this young age?
Recently, a client of mine asked me this question:
“My husband and I are both active and in good shape, but sometimes I eat a bit too much, especially in the evening, and go to bed feeling bloated. I notice that my 3 year old and 5 year old also want second helpings sometimes and afterwards there are times they complain of a stomach ache. How can I model healthy eating behavior for them without emphasizing ‘dieting’ at this young age?”
In my opinion, one of the best things you can do for your children is to teach them healthy eating habits while they are growing up. They don’t need to have any information about what eating too much will do to their future health at this age; only that it might give them a tummy ache! Just as you need to discover that the signal “you are full” does not reach your brain for 15 minutes after you really have had enough, this is something you can teach them, too. Show them that you are setting a timer for 10 minutes when they ask for second helpings (especially if you allow them extra portions of foods that are low in nutrient-density, like desserts). Let them know that their body needs time to realize they are full and if they keep on eating their only signal is a tummy ache when it is too late. Assure them that if they still want more food in ten minutes then it is theirs, but you want to be sure they don’t get sick from eating too much. (You don’t need to remind them in ten minutes by asking, “Did you still want more macaroni and cheese?” but do give them a small amount if they come to you for more when the timer goes off.) Chances are, they will be distracted by some games or toys and forget about the desire for more of the tasty food when the impulse passes.
This is a healthy lesson they will learn for life and they will grow up, not with an idea that “food that tastes good is bad and makes us fat and sick”, but merely “I need to stop and think whether or not my body feels hungry before I take an extra helping”.
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