There is a lot of attention on childhood obesity and concerns about negative body image in young children. As a result, it is understandable for parents to be concerned about whether their child is making healthy food choices and whether their growth is appropriate.
What can I do to make sure that my child is eating healthy food?
The best way to make sure your child is eating healthy food is to eat well yourself! Parents should try being a healthy eating role model for their children to reinforce healthy eating habits. Below are a few tips for setting a healthy eating standard in your family.
- Try eating together as a family more often. Eating healthy foods together and following Canada’s Food Guide has positive influences on what your children choose to eat. This will help them build healthy eating habits that last into adulthood. Try getting everyone involved in the kitchen by having your child help with food preparation!
- Try eating meals at regular times as much as possible. By setting the standard of eating three meals and one or two snacks a day (at about the same time every day) you can help guide your child into a routine that helps regulate their eating habits. Regularly scheduled meals also helps ensure that your child is getting enough food for optimal growth and development.
- Try easing up on the pressure! Pressuring children into eating a certain food may cause them to rebel and associate that food with negative feelings. Whenever possible, try not to pair food (whether healthy or unhealthy) with any negative feeling. Encourage your child to eat broccoli by eating it yourself and allow them time to try it several times to develop a preference for it.
- Avoid giving treats to reward children for eating healthy foods. Children may learn that healthy foods are a chore they have to endure to get to the unhealthy foods. This may lead to a child’s dislike of healthy foods. Encourage healthy eating by providing a variety of foods. Allow your child to decide on their own what they want to eat or not eat.
- Avoid making comments about your own size and shape. Parents who are concerned about their own shape may pass these views on to their children. Children may learn to feel shameful about their changing bodies and fear that the way they look is not good enough. Try showing your child that your shape (and their shape) is okay by curbing your comments, no matter how well meaning. You can also help by making sure that family members or friends curb their possibly hurtful comments.
How do I make sure that my child is growing normally?
Always speak with your child’s doctor to make sure that your child is growing well. You can support normal growth in your child by providing nourishing food. This means a balance of foods from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. You can look at the pages for each of the four food groups – vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives – to find out how much of each nutrient your child needs for their age.
Below are a few tips on healthy eating that you can incorporate into your child’s meals to ensure proper growth and development.
- Include at least one dark green and one orange vegetable in your child’s meals each day. These are high in folate and vitamin A. For a salad, choose romaine lettuce or spinach instead of iceberg lettuce. Add lots of sliced or grated carrot to the salad and you are good to go!
- Try adding whole grains into your child’s diet to help them get the fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals they need. Choose whole grain bread (where whole grain is the first ingredient on the nutrition label) for sandwiches or whole oats for a nutritious and satisfying breakfast.
- Try incorporating milk and milk products like yogurt and cheese into your child’s meals to make sure their calcium needs are met. Try a yogurt and milk smoothie with fruit for a snack.
- To make sure your child gets enough iron, include lean meats such as grilled chicken. You can also get iron from other foods like eggs, tofu, almonds, chickpeas and broccoli. A quick way to get iron into your child is to serve some raw broccoli with a hummus dip.
Your child has it within them to know how much to eat and will grow the way they should if provided with the foods they need. Children also need a safe and supportive eating environment where they can learn healthy eating habits and learn to trust and accept their own bodies. Trust in your abilities to feed your child and they will trust their own abilities too.
How much food is “enough”?
Children are in a period of active growth and may need to eat more frequently than adults. Children have built-in abilities to regulate their own food intake: when they need to eat more(such as when they are in the middle of a growth spurt or are active) they will; if they are having a lazy day, they will eat less. Children will also stop eating when they are full.
It is important to let a child decide for themselves when they have had enough food. If you make the decision for them, it may interfere with their ability to know when they are full and depend on themselves to respect their hunger or fullness cues. This may lead to disordered eating patterns, for example when your child eats very little, feels very hungry and then eats until they feel discomfort.
Parents can help children have healthy eating patterns by allowing them to tune into their own natural hunger and fullness cues and by allowing them to feel hungry or full without any restrictions.
My child is overweight for their age. Should I restrict their food intake?
A child’s diet should be flexible and varied without restricting any food group. Restrictive diets in healthy children may lead to malnutrition and may jeopardize their growth.
Restricting foods from a child’s diet may also interfere with a child’s ability to know when they are hungry. Overriding a child’s hunger cues, even if well meaning, may eventually lead to the child feeling confused, frustrated and resentful about their own biological needs.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight, concentrate on offering a balance of foods from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. Make sure that you are keeping to the recommended serving size and giving the right number of servings for your child’s age. Also consider the drinks that your child is having, as drinks are food too.