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Our kids are what we eat

  • Meaghan O'Keeffe
  • 4/29/2014 12:00:00 AM
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Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving. 

Disney, gender and the parent as gatekeeperThe Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report showing a reduction in childhood obesity rates among children 2 to 5. We should acknowledge that encouraging trend.

Still, overall, child obesity rates have seen a gradual increase over the last 14 years, according to the most recent data published by the JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics.Obviously, we still have lots of work ahead of us—and by us, I mean parents.  

Kids learn a lot from their parents’ attitudes and behaviors around eating. For many of us, that might mean we’ve inadvertently passed some of our not-so-great eating habits on to our kids. One morning, my husband mentioned that he’d been consciously giving the kids smaller bowls of cereal for breakfast. They seemed satisfied with the new amount and often finished their portion, rather than leaving excess to throw away. If they wanted more, he’d sprinkle enough in their bowls to appease them, without giving them an additional meal’s worth of food. It made me realize that I, on the other hand, had taken to mindlessly dumping in a bunch of cereal without giving it a second thought. Whoops.

But rather than feeling guilty about what our children may have picked up from us, we should be thankful about how much influence we have over what and how our children eat. It can encourage us to develop a healthier attitude towards our own food habits so we can help make lasting changes in our children. They might not even have to know we’re doing it.

And readjusting our food habits doesn't always require a complete lifestyle change. It may start as simply as developing portion awareness.

Not exactly sure how much your child should be eating? You're not alone. These guidelines may help you better estimate how much to serve your child.

 

 

Portion Guide for Children

(Adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org)

 

Kids 2 to 3

Food Group

Total per day

Break it down (approximate)

Dairy

2 cups

4 servings that measure either ½ cup OR 4 oz. (1 cup of milk = 2 servings)

Meat

2 oz.

2 servings of either 1 oz. meat, fish or poultry OR 2 tbsps. peanut butter OR 1 egg OR 4 tbsps. cooked dry peas or beans

Vegetables

1 cup

3 to 4 servings each of either 3 to 4 tbsps. cooked veggies OR a few pieces raw

Fruit

1 cup

3 to 4 servings each of either ½-1 small piece raw fruit OR 4 tbsps. canned fruit OR 3-4 oz. juice (Note: Juice should account for less than half of fruit intake.)

Grains

3 oz. equivalent

3 servings each of 1 slice bread OR ½ cup cooked cereal OR ½ cup dry cereal

 

Kids 4 to 8

 

Food Group

Total per day

Break it down (approximate)

Dairy

2 cups

4 servings that measure either ½ cup OR 4 oz. (1 cup of milk = 2 servings)

Meat

3 oz.

3 servings of either 1 oz. meat, fish or poultry OR 2 tbsps. peanut butter OR 1 egg OR 4 tbsps. cooked dry peas or beans

Vegetables

1 ½ cups

4 to 5 servings each of either 2-3 tbsps. cooked veggies OR a few pieces raw

Fruit

1 cup

3 to 4 servings each of either 1 small piece raw fruit OR 4 tbsps. canned fruit OR 3-4 oz. juice (Note: Juice should account for less than half of fruit intake.)

Grain

4 oz. equivalent

4 servings each of 1 slice bread OR ½ cup cooked cereal OR ½ cup dry cereal

 

Kids 9 to 12

 

Food Group

Total per day

Break it down (approximate)

Dairy

3 cups

6 servings that measure either ½ cup OR 4 oz. (1 cup of milk = 2 servings)

Meat

5 oz.

5 servings of either 1 oz. meat, fish or poultry OR 2 tbsps. peanut butter OR 1 egg OR 4 tbsps. cooked dry peas or beans

Vegetables

2 cups

7 to 8 servings of either 4 tbsps. cooked veggies OR a few pieces raw

Fruit

1 ½ cups

5 to 6 servings each of either 1 small piece raw fruit OR 4 tbsps. canned fruit OR 3 to 4 oz. juice (Note: Juice should account for less than half of fruit intake.)

Grain

4 oz. equivalent

4 servings each of 1 slice bread OR ½ cup cooked cereal OR ½ cup dry cereal

 

Portion control for kidsKeep in mind that these are approximate guidelines based on an average sedentary child. Children who are more active may need adjustments. Check in with your pediatrician to determine what is right for your child.

And if getting an entire cup of vegetables into your two-year-old (or 12-year-old for that matter) seems laughable, it’s okay. Do what you can. It’s a goal to aspire to—not an all-or-nothing standard to live up to. The most important thing is to keep fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods as main menu items for your children.

In addition to proper portion sizes, here are a few other things to think about if you are trying to encourage healthier eating habits:

Slow down

Slowing down your eating can be a great challenge, even for adults. This can be an exercise in appreciation and enjoyment. It can also allow for the development of recognizing the sensation of fullness.

Avoid over-restriction

Research has shown that the over-restriction of food can actually result in unhealthy eating patterns and weight gain.

Talk about fullness and hunger

What does it mean to be full? How does it feel? How does it feel to be satisfied? If something tastes good, but we’re feeling full, can we save it for later or the next day?

Redirect

Do you suspect your child is bored, rather than hungry? Try redirecting her to an engaging activity before jumping to a food solution. Even if it only works occasionally, it’s worth testing the waters.

We’re not going to change obesity overnight. But by changing our focus from one of fear to one of awareness and possibility, we can begin to move in the right direction.

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The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
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