If a child is overweight, the last thing you want is to encourage his love of food, right? Food is the enemy, isn’t it? That prevailing belief couldn’t be more misguided.
Some experts and parents think the way to address the problem is by using approaches that are failing to manage adult obesity – restrictive, calorie-reduced diets and inflexible rules.
The problem with restrictive diets is they leave dieters constantly hungry and unsatisfied. Often they create an overwhelming sense of guilt when indulging in “forbidden foods.” No food should be forbidden, but that’s not how diets work.
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They aren’t compatible with modern life. We live in a world full of temptations and cues to eat. We are rarely any farther away from highly palatable food than our hands can reach and that’s the problem with diets.
Diets may yield impressive temporary results for kids. In time, however, the child reverts to default behavior and the weight comes back. Sometimes diets lead to new and more destructive behaviors such as closet eating, binging and purging and other dangerous eating disorders. We need a better approach that makes food and weight management compatible rather than a constant battle.
Public schools are trying to help keep children slim. They’re trying innovative programs such as 5,2,1,0. It’s not a bad idea and it’s doing some good for people who like guidelines. Not everybody recognizes it’s guidelines and instead see it as rules.
For those who are good following rules, it’s effective. Some kids really don’t want to break rules but they just can’t avoid it. When they inevitably do, it causes a consuming sense of guilt that starts more unhealthy behaviors.
For those who tend to see things as black or white it hurts more than helps. A black or white thinker wants to follow the rules perfectly. When perfection doesn’t happen, they don’t just break the rules, they blow them to smithereens.
Another mistake being made by some school districts is the weigh-in. Children get weighed at school and letters get sent home to the parents of the big kids alerting them to the dangers of a high Body Mass Index (BMI). The danger with these weigh-ins and subsequent letters to home are many including bullying, kids getting fat-shamed, getting put on unhealthy diets, or even losing privileges “until you lose some weight.”
Well-meaning adults want to do what they can to help children. There is a way that can be fun, free from stress, and involves the whole family in some delicious eating.
I’m talking about helping kids love food. This is cooking with kids, and more than just cooking. This is letting kids do everything that has to do with the food. It helps them to feel good about the food they eat and better, good about themselves.
Let them help choose it, cook it and eat it.
If you are thinking, “all they’ll want to make are desserts,” or, “my kid’s such a fussy eater we’ll be eating mac and cheese out of a box for every meal if it’s left up to him,” relax. You will be pleasantly surprised.
As much as eating should be simple, since we’re all born with a desire to eat and basic knowledge of how to do it, eating isn’t simple for a lot of us. Feelings about food, our bodies and our weight have complicated what should be simple and the complication starts in childhood for many.
The best way to help children maintain a healthy weight is to help them feel good about the food they eat.
They’ll feel good because their food tastes good and they like the good things it does for their bodies. Encourage kids to learn more about the sources of their food. Make it interesting for them to understand how it helps them grow to be strong and healthy. Kids like knowing how food choices add up to become a nutritious and delicious way to eat.
Teaching kids about growing food
Getting them involved with food preparation while imparting information about the food they eat in a neutral and informative manner is the best way to do it. It gives kids ownership and avoids guilt about food choices. Kids learn how all foods fit together to make them strong, healthy, and happy.
It’s not about eating “healthy” and avoiding all “junk food.” You may think teaching kids the difference between healthy food and junk food will steer them towards eating better. Research shows makes them think healthy food tastes bad and junk food is all the “good stuff they want to eat.”
It’s building an overall healthful way to eat. Don’t think an overweight child is incapable of eating treats as part of their healthy diet. With the right information and neutral motivation they won’t just do it, they’ll love doing it.
Let them make choices about what to eat. Then make a grocery list and head to the supermarket with the kids to help with the food shopping.
I know it slows you down, but it’s way worth the extra time. In addition to helping kids love their food, there’s more ways that involving kids in the grocery shopping will benefit them.
Letting kids select the recipes and letting them help shop and cook makes them more likely to eat well. They will enjoy meals that are good for them. That means no more battles at the dinner table.
Tips for cooking with kids
If you really want to make a difference in a child’s life by helping him or her avoid a lifetime of weight struggles and the health risks that often come with obesity, teach that child how to love food.
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