In Parts 1 and 2  I wrote about ways to prevent obesity by decreasing sitting time and keeping our kids active. This month we will start talking about the first building block of healthy eating habits, “how, when and where to eat”.

When our kids are newborns, we feed them on “demand”—when they act hungry (suck on fists, make sucking motions with their mouths, root for food—turn head toward the breast), and when they act full (quit sucking, turn head away from breast or bottle) we stop! This is a tried and true method for feeding infants; it honors babies’ innate appetites.

Once we start solid foods, between 4 and 6 months of age, we start to establish a bit of a schedule—start with solids two or three times per day and continue to breast or bottle feed on demand. As a baby gets older, he eats more food and less breast milk or formula. By a year, he only needs about 16 ounces of milk (whether continuing to breast feed or switching from breast milk or formula to whole milk). We want to establish a 3 meal and 2 to 3 snack/day routine—breastfeeding as well as bottle or cup feeding is part of the meal/snack routine. We are looking for at least 2 and not more than 4 hours between each meal and snack (remember breast, bottle, or cup feeding is part of a regular “meal” or “snack”, not an extra!). This is a good habit to get into and continue through adolescence. Kids who “graze” (eat small amounts of food throughout the day) tend to either over eat or actually under eat, and they are less apt to meet their vitamin and mineral needs as they would if they ate meals and discreet snacks—the the child who grazes all afternoon on crackers, dry cereal, diluted fruit juice or milk  is not going to be hungry for that nourishing dinner you prepared.

Children and adults do best if they eat at a specific “eating place”—the kitchen or dining room table, or, if you don’t have a table, a specific place on the floor (put a table cloth or towel down—many cultures eat all their meals sitting on the floor). If getting fast food, go into the restaurant and sit down and enjoy it, rather than eating in the car. In our fast paced society we tend to think we must eat on the run or while doing something else in order to “get everything done”. That is really very sad….it is difficult to truly enjoy what we are eating if we are doing something else at the same time, which leads me to the next point:

Turn off the TV and computer, put away the toys, put the dog and cat outside, and enjoy your food.

Eat together—family meals are some of the richest parenting opportunities there are. We can serve our kids a balanced meal, model healthy eating for them, teach them manners, and have conversations with them. Research shows that we are more apt to prepare and eat a meal that is balanced in nutrients when we eat together. It also shows that children who eat family meals on a regular basis are less apt to be obese than those who don’t…not to mention that children who regularly eat family meals have been shown to do better in school, and are less apt to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs.

These are some basic goals to strive for that have been shown to reduce obesity. Rome wasn’t built in a day—if you are not already doing these things, try one of these this week, and add another one every week or two.

  • Offer 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks daily, with at least 2 hours and not more than 4 hours between “eating times”—nothing other than plain water between meals and snacks.
  • Sit down at a table or “eating place” for all meals and snacks.
  • Turn the TV and computer off, put the toys and books away and just eat!
  • Eat with your kids.