You may be surprised to learn that junk isn’t the only culprit
His plate’s piled high with meat, potatoes and broccoli and afterwards he has a healthy fruit salad. You care about what your child eats and make sure you feed him fresh, home-cooked food.
But are you also unwittingly helping him gain too much weight?
A survey of 1000 British parents found that 79 per cent routinely gave their children portions that were larger than recommended. Experts believe that this — and not just consuming ‘junk food’ — contributes to obesity in children.
So what can a parent do if they mean well and want to fill their child up with healthy meals?
These five tips will help…
1 Cut portion sizes
Child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed says that portion sizes definitely play a role in children’s eating behaviours and also in weight gain in adults and children.
She explains: ‘Sometimes it can be hard to understand what appropriate portion sizes are, as food products vary hugely and there are no specific guidelines on what portion sizes should look like for young children.
‘However, the idea of “me-sized meals” — suggesting that children should be having proportionately smaller portions than adults — is useful when we think about meals and snacks for our children.’
2 Let them stop eating when they’re full
It isn’t just portion sizes either.
Some parents insist kids clear their plates so they don’t waste food, but this can encourage children to eat even if they’re full.
Charlotte says that this can have an impact.
She says: ‘It’s important to allow your child to recognise their own hunger and fullness signs by offering a good routine around food and mealtimes.
‘Try to encourage children
to listen to their body, stop when they are full and eat more if they are still hungry. If this is instilled from a young age it can really make a difference.’
3 Don’t talk about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food
Charlotte says a mum doesn’t have to be feeding her child nothing but chips and ice cream to accidentally cause them to gain too much weight.
She explains: ‘There are multiple causes of weight gain in children. But helping them build a healthy relationship with food can really help.
‘It’s important not to talk about negative aspects of food such as dieting or “good and bad” foods, or overly restricting any foods. Instead we can help build a positive relationship with foods and allow children to enjoy a variety.’
4 Don’t ‘treat’ at the weekend
Some parents rightly restrict the daily consumption of sugary foods or junk food, but might offer them at the weekend or as a reward for doing well at school.
But, says Charlotte, this well-meaning approach can cause problems.
‘Calling some foods “treats” simply makes them more desirable,’ she says. ‘Overly restricting foods can have the same effect too.
‘The focus should be on offering a wide variety of foods every day, focusing on a balanced diet from the start and allowing children to let you know when they are full or would like more to eat.’
5 Watch what you do and say
A parent’s own attitude to food can also have an impact on their child’s relationship with eating.
If you’re on a diet or always talking about ‘bad’ food and ‘good’ food, this can affect your child.
Charlotte says: ‘I’ve certainly seen this in practice, especially when parents talk about their desire to “diet”. It isn’t a good message to send young children, especially if we want them to grow up enjoying foods and being confident about their own bodies.
‘Instead, why not talk about the different properties of food? Talk about the nutrients in them and why we need more of some than others — for example, we need more wholegrains as they contain fibre.
‘I encourage parents to eat with their kids, focus on the positive elements of food — enjoyment, variety, colour and taste — and leave any negative self-talk or referring to foods as “good or bad” aside.’
Edited by Julie Cook
I cut portion sizes just in time
When my daughter Kayla, now eight, started eating I had a battle on my hands. She was fussy and would never eat anything with lumps in it. I had to blend everything.
As a result, when I found something she would eat — such as rice or pasta — I would give her heaps of it to ensure she got some nutrients.
I’d never seen any guidelines of how much to feed children so would just give her a lot of mash or pasta. But as she grew I realised I was probably giving her too much — the same as an adult would eat.
Now I give her a half-portion of whatever I have. Kayla is still choosy but I don’t go overboard on the foods she does like.
It’s easy to overfeed children but now I hope I’ve got my daughter’s portion sizes just right. As a result, Kayla is a normal healthy weight for her age.
From Emma Johnson, 34, of London