As parents, we’re faced with an ongoing myriad of challenges involving our children’s wellbeing and nutrition. Why they refuse to eat certain foods, whether they fixate on others for a period of time, whether they’re eating sufficient amounts of certain food groups and whether they’re consuming excessive amounts of others.
It’s a stressful balancing act that’s often constantly changing for each child. It’s a topic that frequently comes up at my workshops.
Childhood obesity is indeed on the rise worldwide (due to a combination of factors) which can become more complicated due to societal perception, our own expectations as well as our personal relationships with weight and food.
Whilst obesity is a worldwide epidemic, I’m always very eager to stress to families that there are most definitely healthy and nutritious ways to manage weight issues and concerns when it comes to children. As parents, we have a responsibility to our children to help them appreciate and nurture a lifelong healthy relationship with food as well as their own bodies.
This includes a balanced, sensitive and moderated management of any weight-related concerns and issues that may crop up in their development.
Weight is a highly emotive concern and can cause parents to panic and look for extreme or quick solutions to issues, including sometimes restrictive diets or the removal of certain vital food groups.
I always emphasise the need to nourish children with a wide range of healthy, wholesome and nutrient-dense foods. Not only can restricting your child’s diet lead to developmental issues (as they aren’t receiving sufficient nutrients for cell and nerve function) it can also have a negative impact on their eating behaviours in later life, as well as self-esteem, as The Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan discussed on This Glorious Mess.
In my book, I discuss serving sizes and whilst they’re offered as a guide, it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all around how much your child should be eating. Every child has a different body shape, metabolism and activity level, how much and how often a child eats will also differ.
When I meet families who are concerned about their child’s weight, I emphasise how important it is to positively move the focus away from ‘diet’ and ‘food’ and to instead empower and teach your child about the functionality and benefits of the healthy food we eat.
When I co-developed the MEND programme, this ideology is exactly what we built the programme around, empowering children who may struggle with weight issues and the importance of boosting self-esteem to shift the emphasis from food, to what our amazing bodies can do. Through using this approach, families can avoid instilling negative body image, whilst improving the health of your child.
It’s also important that even if one child in the family is suffering from being overweight, that the whole family adopts a healthy eating lifestyle or exercise regime in order to not isolate any one child. I have a chapter in my book, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, where you can find tips on how to tackle this as a family.
Some children are born slender and some children are not. As long as your child is as healthy as they can be, and enjoying a wide range of balanced, healthy and nutritious foods, then that’s what matters most.
Here are my top tips for how to address weight issues with your child:
Be a positive role model.
Now, I’m not just talking about being a positive role model with healthy food and exercise, I’m also talking about positive body image. In my house we aren’t allowed to use the ‘F’ word at all… the word “fat”.
As a positive role model for your child, it’s important not to speak negatively about your own weight (or even other people’s) as it may affect how your child views their own body and weight. I also recommend to families that they avoid discussing any fad diets that adults may be taking part in.
So, what should you talk about? Teaching your child that when you eat healthy and nutritious food your body is nourished and given energy to play is a good place to start. Conversations starters such as, “eating this veggie muffin will give you the energy to play longer on the playground,” or, “this bowl of granola will give your body the nutrients it needs to build strong bones,” begins to teach your child about the importance of healthy food.
It’s a good idea to identify and remove elements that trigger an unhealthy eating pattern. Does your child eat to comfort themselves? Are they bored? Or, are those store-bought chocolate biscuits their weakness?
Once you can identify these triggers, removing and replacing with healthier alternatives can be a great idea.
Shifting your focus to whole food choices and moving away from pre-packaged foods can work wonders for your child’s appetite. Try my Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls or Almond and Buckwheat Vanilla Biscuits for nutritious alternatives to store-bought versions.
Some other nutritious swaps for those with a sweet tooth include:
- Creamy Chocolate Cashew Bunnies with no added sugar and a creamy cashew filling!
- Betta Than Nutella Choc Spread is the Wholesome Child twist on sugar-packed spreads, but with the same delicious flavour. Pop some on toast, in muffins or even use it as a dipping sauce.
- Chocolate Almond Scones are a yum twist on a traditional snack food. The addition of flaxseeds also boosts the fibre and fat content of these nutrient-dense scones.
Curb juice, soda and cordial intake.
This is something that I advise all families to do, irrespective of any weight concerns. Soft drinks, soda pop, sports drinks and cordials are filled with sugars, hidden nasties and contain next to no nutritional benefit.
I advise families to gradually remove these from the everyday, diluting with water at a ratio of three to one, with the intention of eventually moving onto just water.
Nourish, not punish.
If your child has a big appetite, ensure that they're nourished and not restricted. Restriction can impact development and can lead to binge eating and the formation of unhealthy eating patterns and body image.
Ensure your child is eating three meals a day with two satiating snacks, including an abundance of colourful veggies, protein and healthy fats. Try these filling snack ideas…
- Boiled eggs
- Veggie sticks with homemade dips
- Simple seaweed wraps - seaweed strips, shredded veggies, shredded chicken that kids can wrap up themselves
- Natural yoghurt and mixed fruit
- Cheese, tomato and cucumber salads (cut cheese into fun shapes)
- Fruit, veggie and cheese skewers.
You can watch Mandy making her healthy chocolate spread step-by-step below. Post continues after video.
Allow your child to regulate their own appetite.
Studies have shown that children who regulate their own natural appetite (I.E. allowed to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full) tend to sustain a healthy weight. Allowing your child to regulate their natural appetite can work wonders for tuning into their hunger cues and ultimately maintaining a healthy weight. While I'd still recommend offering three nutritious meals a day, tailor these to your own child.
If your child is ravenous in the morning, give them a filling breakfast such as Sweet Potato Pikelets or my Mango Chia Pudding (pg. 197 of my book), and a smaller dinner. On the other hand, if your child tends to be hungrier in the evening, offer them a filling dinner and a smaller breakfast to suit.
Respecting your child's natural appetite means that while we need to offer two fruits and five vegetables a day, we should try and not limit that amount or portion size of what they eat. If you're offering a nutritious dinner and your child asks for a second lamb chop or more vegetables because they're still hungry, let them. Don't limit their natural appetite by restricting nutritious foods.
If you're concerned about your child's weight gain and think that there may be underlying medical conditions which need professional help, it's strongly recommended to see the professional advice of your GP, paediatrician or dietitian.
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes. Connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook. Or, for more information contact Mandy Sacher.