Ten Tips for Trim Kids

Mary Donkersloot is a Registered Dietician with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She specializes in child nutrition and eating disorders.

Feeding kids is an important job for parents. Taking the easy way out and opting for processed, packaged or fast foods can often mean too much sugar, fat, salt, which generally means too many calories. In some cases, this kind of eating leads to devastating results, including overweight kids. On the other hand, it can be daunting to plan balanced, family meals that are appealing to kids and not too time consuming.

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As a mom and a nutritionist, I strive for family meals with protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, but eating white bread and watching TV happens, even at my house. I remind myself that perfection is not the goal. It’s less about rigid rules and more about guidelines. Call it a lifestyle. Here are ten tips for trim kids:

  • Delineate the role of the parent and the child. The parent decides what the child will eat, the time and the place. From the menu the parent provides, the child decides what and how much he or she will eat. This will avoid struggles and allow the child to regulate their own food intake, as it should be. If a child seems to want to eat too much, make sure they consume vegetables and milk before giving seconds of the starch. (Kids don’t usually want seconds of the protein). For overweight kids, serve both a cooked and a raw vegetable.

  • Give meals a sense of occasion. Set a nice table, take time to chat over dinner. Parents should eat meals with their kids as often as possible. Kids want to be like grown-ups and they can learn about a variety of foods, normal portion sizes, setting limits and balancing nutrients from observing what parents choose to serve and what parents actually eat. Parents should avoid talk about dieting with kids. Instead, be a positive role model.

  • Expose kids to a wide variety of foods as soon as they start eating solids. If they see parents eating a variety, they’ll want it too. Dinners should include fish at least two or three times a week, chicken two or three times a week, and lean meant once or twice. Vary starches to include rice, pasta, and potatoes (mashed, roasted, boiled with butter, hash browns or home made French fries).

  • Let kids participate in food preparation. They can peel potatoes and carrots, pour the oatmeal in the boiling water, stir the soup, husk the corn, wash the salad greens, and set the table. Helping out is great for self-esteem and helps to expand the connection with food in a positive way. Clean up is a lot easier if kids do their share. Start these behaviors as early as pre-school, so kids are used to it as they grow up.

  • Limit processed foods. Kids who are used to chicken nuggets that are infused with sugar, oils, and flavorings are not as likely to go for home -cooked chicken breasts. Meanwhile, the nuggets are higher in fat and calories, setting kids up for a palate with expectations that don’t appreciate fresh, real food like peas, corn, green beans, fish, chicken and lean meat.

  • Make sure kids are hungry at meal times. Kids who have continual and unlimited access to juice and goldfish crackers will be too full from snacks and consequently less eager to try new foods at dinner. Snacks should be mini-meals, a little protein, a little carbohydrate, and a little fat. Let kids drink water or milk with snacks. Here are some snack ideas: apple or banana with peanut butter or almond butter, cheese stick with grapes, bread with peanut butter, dry cheerios and a glass of milk, blueberries with yogurt or pudding.

  • Limit juice, lemonade and other sugared drinks to 4 to 6 ounces per day, or avoid altogether for overweight children. Avoid apple juice altogether if you can. Because of its sweetness, kids get hooked on it and their palate may not longer want milk or water. Juice between meals can make a child too full so they are not hungry at mealtime. Eliminate all soft drinks.

  • Serve a fruit or vegetable each time you feed your child. For example, serve a fruit with breakfast and snacks, and a vegetable with lunch and dinner. Sneak fruits into milkshakes or smoothies and add vegetables to soups and sandwiches.

  • Desserts are best after a meal. There’s no reason to cut out desserts completely, but it is reasonable to allow them after a meal and not before. Choose desserts that are not ultra-rich, like a small amount of regular (not premium) ice cream with bananas or chocolate, or oatmeal cookies with milk, or strawberries dipped in chocolate or popsicles.

  • Limit dining out to once a week. When you make trips to fast food restaurants, which should be infrequently, once or twice a month or less, tell kids you’ll only go there if they agree to certain rules. Order small or regular-sized sandwiches instead of whopping double-super-sized. Order milk instead of soda. Let them eat fries, even though they are not ideal. Just make it a treat and not a regular occurrence.

Feature image photo by Flickr user Emborg. Used under the Creative Commons license

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