They say eating habits start young.
We have discussed many of the practices and behaviors that can contribute to childhood obesity already, from too much soda consumption and not enough fruits and veggies to portion sizes and excess screen time.
There are other practices, independent of actual food selections and portion sizes, that can evolve into unhealthy eating habits. These behaviors may take on a life of their own and when they do, can be a contributor to childhood obesity.
“My mom yells at me if I snack in between meals. But I am so hungry at night…when my parents go to bed, I go to the pantry and get a box of cereal.”
“I hate being hungry, but mostly I feel hungry, especially at lunch. I carry extra granola bars and crackers in my backpack at school and store them in my locker. Oh, and I have some candy hidden in my closet, too…. just in case I get hungry.”
“My parents are really focused on eating healthy and exercising—they never eat anything bad for them. When I want bad foods, I definitely make sure they don’t see me eat them, because I would get in trouble or they would disapprove. It stinks to eat alone, but that’s the only way I can eat the foods that I like.”
The Offsite Overeater
“We never have anything good to eat in my house, but when I go to Johnny’s house, his mom has everything! I just can’t help myself…”
Eating Habits Start Young
As adults, many of you can probably identify with some of these feelings and behaviors. Maybe these remind you of your own childhood struggles. The seeds for the above behaviors are planted at a young age.
Parents have the difficult job of balancing healthy eating and food with food security. How can you assure your child is secure about food, is getting enough to be satisfied, and is avoiding the bad habits that can sabotage healthy eating and weight?
6 Essentials for Establishing Healthy Eating Habits
Be a great provider
Stock your kitchen with a balanced variety of foods. Avoid the extremes in food—all healthy or all “junk food.” Prepare enough food at mealtimes to satisfy your family’s appetite, and keep a schedule for meals and snacks—this helps avoid excess hunger.
Avoid “good” and “bad” food labels
Positive and negative food labels can confuse children and set up conflict in their minds—how can my teacher eat “bad” food? How can this food be “bad” when it tastes so good? It’s best to keep a neutral attitude about all foods.
Tune into hunger and appetite
Appetite and hunger varies with children and children want to eat when they are hungry. Putting off hunger can lead to overeating—either in an obvious way or in a secretive way.
Do you want your child to eat what they need and leave the table satisfied? Try using a different approach such as family-style meal service. Offer a variety of food groups in serving platters and bowls, and allow your child to determine if and how much food they will consume. You get to determine the health and quality of the foods you serve.
Encourage eating in the open
Don’t shame your child if they want to eat. Help them find a satisfying snack, and if able, sit with them while they eat it. Children should not have to hide when they want to eat in order to avoid a parent’s disapproval. There is no shame in eating; we all have to eat to live.
Address bad eating habits openly
Don’t be afraid to speak to your child lovingly about bad eating habits. You might learn that your child is not eating enough or properly, which is something you can work with your child to solve. Alternatively, your child ends up navigating the situation on his own, and perhaps in an unhealthy and unsuccessful manner.
You can help your child change his or her eating habits and even prevent the damage that can spring from them.
How are your child’s eating habits?
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