Dr. Linda Mintle is a nationally recognized writer,
speaker and licensed clinical social worker who has
been in general clinical practice for the past 20
years. She specializes in marriage and family therapy
and eating disorders.
Visit Dr. Linda's Web
Overweight Kids: Learning New Habits
New Life Ministries
It's in the news: childhood weight problems are now so prevalent
that the National Institutes of Health considers it an epidemic.
A staggering 30 percent of American youngsters -- twice as many
as 20 years ago -- are overweright or on their way to becoming
In her new book, Overweight Kids, nationally recognized
author and professional therapist, Dr. Linda Mintle, offers an
expert voice on the topic of childhood weight problems.
Dr. Linda provides advice for parents wanting to encourage their
children to make good food choices, develop a healthy body image,
maintain a physically active lifestyle, and overcome emotional
pain they may have experienced from hurtful teasing about their
In the following excerpt from her book she provides several tips
for helping your children develop good eating habits.
Seven Great Eating Habits for Kids
1. Eat to satisfy hunger and nothing more. Physical
hunger is different than eating out of boredom or other emotional
needs. Physical hunger builds gradually and begins with a growling
or rumbling stomach. Another indicator is the falling energy level
most kids experience right before it’s time to eat. Difficulty
concentrating and increased irritability are also indicators of
true physical hunger.
A significant problem with overweight kids is that many eat when
they aren’t hungry. Instead of satisfying hunger, eating
fills up time or satisfies other needs. If your child eats for
emotional reasons, you’ll have to teach her new coping methods,
which we will cover in chapter 8. Ask your child if she is really
hungry or whether she feels bored, or if the food just sounds
If she doesn’t know what real hunger is, teach her to pay
attention to her body and describe what the symptoms of physical
hunger are. In addition, pay attention to the time of her last
meal or snack. If it has been three to four hours since her last
meal, she is probably hungry. Young children get hungry after
short intervals because their little tummies can only handle so
much food at one time. If she isn’t hungry, encourage her
to wait until mealtime to eat, and then distract her with something
else to do.
2. Stop eating when full. For those of us taught
to clean our plates, this is a tough one. We still feel guilt
over all those poor children in third-world countries who are
starving because we waste food at the table! We need to let go
of this whole method. Forcing kids to eat when they don’t
want to leads to big battles, and if waste is the issue, it’s
not a big deal to wrap up food and serve it for a snack at a later
time. If a person is full, the food is better left on the plate
then eaten. Kids know when they feel full unless they have a physical
problem related to hunger.
The same habits hold true when eating out. Since restaurant portions
are usually large, tell your child the uneaten portion of the
food will be wrapped up and taken home for a snack later when
he is hungry again. He should feel free to stop eating when he
3. Eat at the table. Early in life, teach your
children that eating happens at the table during mealtimes, not
while watching television and unconsciously putting food in your
mouth. Sure, it’s fine to put up the TV trays and eat during
a special movie once in a while, but not very often! Food should
be eaten during mealtimes, at the table, whether in the kitchen
or dining room. (Notice I didn’t say you should eat in the
car, in front of the morning news, or while reading, surfing the
Internet, or while attending church!) All of this eating everywhere
and anytime is not helping us establish good habits.
We are so pressed for time that it seems like mealtimes are when
we catch up on light activities. This is a bad idea. When we spend
our dining moments stressing over the bills we are opening, or
checking the stock market figures, or watching the news, we don’t
pay any attention to what we are eating or how much we are eating,
or even whether or not we are full.
4. Schedule mealtimes. There is no substitute
for consistency when it comes to instilling good eating habits
in our children. Too often the family meal is given little or
no priority as other pressing events dictate what the family’s
evening will look like. You know what I mean – soccer games,
ballet practice, late business meetings, church functions, piano
lessons, and whatever other activities are on the calendar.
The breakdown of regular family mealtimes is a sad result of
the changing face of the family as we know it. We are too busy
to sit down for twenty minutes with the people we are closest
to, even when the goal is to enjoy some good food and good company.
Yet when there is a regular dinnertime, there tends to be regular
snack times and better expectations in place for when and what
children are to eat. This step cannot be skipped if we want to
improve our family’s overall health when it comes to eating.
Meals should be scheduled and everyone should participate. We’ll
discuss this more a little later in the book.
When you have meals, have your child come to the table. Even
if your child insists he is not hungry, he must join the family.
Don’t force him to eat, but have him participate with the
family in conversation and be present for the mealtime. Eating
together is a special part of eating in general.
5. Choose healthy food. Go through your pantry
and get rid of all the junk food and unhealthy snacks. Then stock
your pantry with better items such as baked low-fat chips, nuts,
yogurt, and fruit. If the healthy foods are the only snacks, your
kids will eat them. When I first did this with my kids, they would
open the pantry door, start at the options, and say, “Mom,
there is nothing to eat.” Then I would point out the food
they didn’t want to eat. For the first few weeks, they went
without. Eventually, they started snacking on the healthier items,
to the point that it was habitual and they didn’t complain
about the choices available.
Evaluate how you cook and try to make the food choices healthier.
In place of baked products, make fruit and other low-calorie items
dessert. At the end of the meal, put out an attractive-looking
plate of berries, cut-up bananas, and other scrumptious fruit.
If you want to make it a little more special, serve fruit with
an angel food cake and low-fat Cool Whip and you’ve got
a great dessert for kids. And though your family might tell you
they have to have ice cream every night, or that they really want
apple pie instead of baked apples, if you are persistent, new
and healthier eating habits will form.
When your child eats healthy food, praise her. It’s so
important to praise behavior you want to encourage and ignore
behavior you want to discourage. Positive attention for appropriate
behavior is one of the best parenting strategies you can use when
teaching your child new eating habits.
6. Allow kids to eat treats. I’ve been
to so many birthday parties at which mothers hover over their
kids and say something like, “No, Sally doesn’t want
any birthday cake.” Meanwhile, Sally looks longingly at
the cake, heaves a big sigh, and sits by herself. By the look
on Sally’s face, I’ll probably be seeing her in therapy
someday. Don’t do this Let ‘em eat cake!
Not that you should go crazy and stock your pantry with boxes
of cake mixes (remember moderation?), but you shouldn’t
try and keep your child from enjoying a treat with the rest of
the kids. When parents don’t allow a child to indulge, the
child puts a premium on that cake, thinks about it to the point
of almost obsessing, and wants that cake enough that he will determine
then and there to eat it when you aren’t around. Eating
cake at a party isn’t going to put on the pounds …
but eating cake at home for dessert every night just might.
The same goes for dining out. It’s okay to indulge, but
use moderation when you do so. If you can avoid fast-food places,
by all means, do. If your child is pleading and begging to go
to McDonald’s and it has been a month since you’ve
indulged, why not go to McDonald’s, but with the mindset
of eating in moderation? No super-sizing, and what about sharing
a box of fries between yourself and your child? And how about
ordering milk instead of the soda?
7. Food innovation. As kids grow older, their
tastes can change. They may find out they like a certain food
they passed up before. I remember the day we were all pleasantly
surprised when my daughter started eating salads. She wouldn’t
eat them before the age of nine. Now salads are a mainstay for
her. Offer new and different foods regularly and encourage your
child to take a bite and try them. It’s best to introduce
a new food with familiar favorites.
Even though food is delicious, it shouldn’t be used as
a punishment or reward. Eating vegetables is not a suitable punishment
for being disrespectful at the table. And eating an entire box
of chocolates is not an acceptable reward for getting straight
A’s this semester. When foods are used as a punishment or
reward, the child puts a higher value on them, which can actually
increase the child’s desire to eat more and more of those
More family and parenting articles on CBN.com
Visit Dr. Linda's Web site
Excerpted from the book Overweight
Kids by Dr. Linda Mintle. Used by permission of New Life
Ministries. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can contact us
at 1-800-NEW-LIFE or www.newlife.com.
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