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Sunday, December 28th, 2014
Since 2015 is here, I thought I’d put together a list of some great ideas to help you help your kids eat better during the upcoming year.
Don’t worry—I’m not suggesting any kind of complete dietary overhaul. But I do recommend all of these no-fuss strategies suggested by some top dietitians to help move kids’ diets and habits in a more healthful direction.
Whether you choose several strategies at once or one for each month in 2015, all are sure to help your kids incorporate more nutrients in their diets. And they’ll certainly make your meals even more delicious.
Read on for 12 expert tips to help your kids eat better in the New Year and beyond.
1. Create a produce calendar. Creating a produce calendar can help organize meal planning and help kids feel like they’re part of the process. It can also help them feel like they have some control over what is served and get them excited about produce. To do this, you can assign each family member one or two days a week to choose the daily fruit and veggie meal stars. For instance, Mom might have Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Bobby might have Wednesdays and Fridays (you get the drift). You can then write up a calendar and let each person choose the fruit and veggie star for his or her day. You can choose whatever fruit or vegetable you like or use a seasonal list like this one to guide your choices. Kids can help wash the fruit or vegetable and observe or help with their preparation depending on their age.
2. “Cook” in class. You can volunteer at your kids’ school by offering a hands-on no-cook cooking class. It’s a great way to highlight the fun you can have even if you’re not baking, but instead making nutritious items like fruit kebabs with yogurt dip or an edamame salad.
3. Take the rainbow challenge. For the game lover in all of us, Healthy Kids Concepts (HKC)*, a non-profit that encourages healthy eating habits through color-inspired lessons in pre-K and grade school children, offers check sheets (they can be downloaded for free here) to help kids keep track of how many different colors of fruits and veggies they eat each day. The goal is to eat the rainbow every day for an entire month.
4. Just dip it. Kids love to dip things, and studies suggest they may eat even more vegetables if they use them as dippers. So, why not make some tasty and affordable dips to offer the kids with their meals and snacks. You can buy canned chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinse, and whir in a blender or food processor with some olive oil and a squirt of lemon. Frozen, thawed green peas plus olive oil, lemon juice and some minced garlic, salt and pepper can also work. You can also serve new dishes or foods previously disliked with a dipping sauce. For example, you can serve steak strips with no sugar added cranberry sauce or grilled chicken strips with some honey mustard.
5. Make your own fruit fantasy. Create your own edible fruit arrangement by slicing watermelon into popsicle shapes on popsicle sticks or fan orange segments out on a plate in a pattern that looks like the sun with a banana circle center. Making fruit look good can certainly make it more appealing to kids.
6. Let ‘em eat with their hands. Add edamame sprinkled with a little sea salt to your kid’s lunchbox. It’s a fun, hand-held, easy to eat food that’s rich in filling protein not to mention other key nutrients (it also counts as a vegetable).
7. How ‘bout veggies before dinner? Because so few kids meet their daily quota for vegetables, how about making it a rule to eat veggies in the hour leading up to dinner? Noshing on baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, plum or cherry tomatoes, plain or with a little Italian dressing or a tablespoon or two of dip can help kids eat enough vegetables to meet their needs and prevent them from noshing on nutrient-poor snacks that will fill them up and spoil their appetite before you can even say, “Dinner’s ready.”
8. Plant a garden. You can do this in your backyard or, if you live in an apartment, in a box on your terrace. Planting, watering, and picking vegetables, herbs and spices can teach your kids where food comes from and give them a sense of ownership and pride when the planted items are ready to be incorporated into meals.
9. Swap some usual foods. Once in a while, instead of offering the same old same old, mix things up a bit. For example, instead of carrots, offer parsnips. They offer myriad nutrients and have a similar taste and texture to carrots. Try them anywhere you’d use carrots, like in a stir fry dish or in a winter vegetable chili. And how about replacing some of the broccoli in dishes with cauliflower. You can buy it fresh or frozen and serve it in a mixed dish or by itself, chopped and steamed.
10. Rate your plate. Ask your kids to do a taste test at one meal each week. You can offer them several food options and have them give each a score of 1 to 5 on their color and taste.
11. Shape ‘em up. Because kids love pizza, spaghetti, French fries and pancakes, why not encourage them to try more vegetables by having them help you make new versions of each of these. For example, you can make matchstick parsnip fries; portabello mushroom, eggplant or cauliflower-crusted pizza; beet or carrot pancakes; or zucchini muffins. You can also use a veggie spiralizer (the kids can even help) to make colorful, nutrient-rich “pasta” out of steamed or grilled zucchini, baked sweet potatoes or fresh cucumber. If you don’t want to make the switch to all veggie noodles, try mixing some in with pasta noodles.
12. Go fish! Kids and parents tend to not eat recommended amounts of fish in their daily diet. That’s a shame, especially since fish is a key source of high quality protein and potent omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are important for development and health of the brain, nervous system, heart, skin, and immune system. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend anywhere from 3 to 8 or more ounces of fish weekly depending on kids’ needs and total calorie intake (see my recent Scoop on Food post for more information). Because that really isn’t that much, why not simply replace one or two of your family’s weekly meat dishes or one family meal and one of your child’s lunches with fish. Lower mercury fish options include salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod. White (albacore) tuna can also be consumed, but should be limited to no more than 6 ounces a week.
Sources: Patricia Bannan, MS, RD; Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD & Willow Jarosh, MS, RD co-owners of C&J Nutrition and board members of HKC*; Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Nutritioulicious; Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide; Lindsay Livingston, RD; Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, a.k.a. The Nutrition Twins, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure; Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to www.BestFoodFacts.org; Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, HFS; and Rebecca Subbiah, RDN.
Image of 2015 written with food via shutterstock.
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children, diet, eating, fish, food, fruit, health, produce, vegetables | Categories:
Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, December 15th, 2014
This month, McDonald’s USA introduced fresh fruit—Cuties California Clementines—as a side option for their Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal options.
The cuties, which provide an excellent source of Vitamin C, will be available during their peak season through March 2015.
According to a press release by the company, adding Cuties to the menu as a kids’ meal option or a la carte purchase “supports McDonald’s ongoing dedication to children’s nutrition and well-being.”
Other nutritious options currently offered as sides for McDonald’s kids’ meals include apple slices and Go-GURT low fat Strawberry Yogurt (though the latter option has six grams of sugar, some of it added; sugar is listed as the second ingredient).
I applaud the effort by the company to include Cuties on the menu. Even though each Cutie counts as only one quarter of cup of fruit, most kids fall short on recommendations for daily fruit intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recent national surveys reveal that although two- to five-year-olds met their recommended daily fruit intake goals (0.9 cup-equivalents* per 1,000 calories consumed), 60 percent of children don’t eat enough fruit.
I hope that efforts to provide more nutrient-rich options to kids and all consumers—especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—will continue to appear on fast food and restaurant menus. Such options can certainly provide alternatives to nutrient-poor, highly palatable fare that in excess can contribute to the development of unhealthy weight gain, obesity, and myriad diet-related diseases.
The problem is, even if nutrient-rich foods like Cuties are purchased by parents and their children, that’s no guarantee that they’ll be consumed in place of French fries or milkshakes—some of the very items most go to fast food for in the first place. And if parents and their kids don’t buy such items when offered at fast food outlets, it’s likely the companies will be less willing to offer similar items in the future.
As I’ve written about in a previous Scoop on Food post, I’m not sure fast food will ever truly be health food. Don’t get me wrong—I welcome any effort by McDonald’s or other chains/restaurants to enhance their nutritious offerings. But unless more dramatic changes are made e.g. offering smaller portions, and cutting added fats and sugars in entrees and sides, adding a piece of fruit to the menu isn’t going to have a dramatic impact when it comes to consumers’ health and nutrient intake. That’s because most fast food options including kids’ meals are packed with more calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium than kids need.
Fortunately, providing calorie counts on menus and more comprehensive nutrition information upon request (and on company websites) potentially can help kids and parents make more mindful choices when eating out.
However, it’s prudent for all of us to limit the frequency of visits to fast food restaurants. And to make having a fast food meal or snack an occasional treat rather than a regular part of your routine. Studies suggest that children who eat more fast food tend to take in more calories and fewer nutrients than those who consume less or no fast food. Including fast food in the diet can also be a marker for less healthful habits overall. So, if you choose to go to fast food restaurants, I say do it infrequently and eat what you like (even if it’s a burger and fries). Such a strategy is likely better than eating fast food meals often.
If you and your kids find yourself eating fast food for whatever reason—you’re stranded at the airport, you’re on a road trip, you’re in a rush—choosing smaller portions and opting for the more nutrient-rich picks, like a Cutie, or something green and colorful (like a side salad with a small amount of oil-based salad dressing) and eating those first can help you eat better. They may even fill you up enough to leave over a few bites of that burger or a few French fries!
*One cup-equivalent of fruit is approximately one small apple, one cup applesauce or 100% juice.
What are your thoughts about adding fruit/produce to a fast food menu? Will it really make a difference in what kids and their parents choose/eat?
Image of Cuties via Elisa Zied.
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Monday, December 1st, 2014
To help kids and their families make more informed choices when eating out, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just finalized two rules for restaurant-type foods (foods usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location) and foods purchased from vending machines.
According to the new rules, chain restaurants, and similar retail food establishments such as pizza places, salad bars in grocery stores and delis, ice cream shops and movie theaters with 20 or more locations—are now required to post calorie information on menus and menu boards. Operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines also are required to share calorie information with consumers.
In an effort to reduce the incidence of obesity and improve nutritional intake—and offerings—to Americans, menu labeling was originally spearheaded by the consumer advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, in 2003. But it wasn’t until 2008 that menu labeling was mandated for the first time in the U.S. in New York City. Supported by dozens of consumer and professional groups including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, several cities have since adopted similar measures. And in 2010, the national health care reform bill that included a menu labeling provision was passed. Although final menu labeling regulations were expected within a year, they weren’t finalized until recently, at the end of 2014. (Better late than never, I guess!)
Chain restaurants and other retail establishments have one year, and vending machines have two years, to comply with the new federal rules that, incidentally, trump local laws. Although many chain restaurants have already implemented menu labeling laws, following the new rules will be costly for grocery stores and other establishments that before now weren’t required by law to post calorie information.
It’s unclear at this time how menu labeling will impact kids’ overall calorie and nutrient intake. Still, it’s important to pay attention to calories and other nutrients such as fat and sodium derived from foods purchased away from home since they make up a large part of the daily diet. In the press release announcing the new rules, FDA commissioner, Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. says, “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.” The question is, will knowing how many calories are in different foods help consumers—including kids—purchase and subsequently consume fewer calories?
Although we need a lot more data before drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of menu labeling (the few studies on its impact on adults and teenagers have thus far yielded mixed results), a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concludes that “menu labeling will likely cause small, but meaningful, reductions in calories purchased at chain restaurants and cafeterias overall, and particularly for patrons who see and use the labels.” It also suggests that the full impact of menu labeling won’t be apparent until chains throughout the country comply with federal menu labeling regulations.
Many experts support the new rules requiring calorie information for fast food and other restaurants and food sold at movie theaters and other venues and in vending machines. Registered and licensed dietitian Joan Salge Blake, a Clinical Associate Professor at Boston University, says, “The new, and long overdue, labeling guidelines will allow families to better understand the amount of calories in their choices at restaurants, and then, balance those decisions among the other family meal options for the week.”
Lisa Young, R.D., PhD., author of The Portion Teller Plan, says, “It’s good that people will now know how many calories are in the foods they eat. They may even see some surprises that may help them make better choices.” David Katz, M.D., Editor in Chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, agrees. He says, “I support the measures because more informed decisions are better than uninformed decisions.” But he also says we have to be very careful not to conflate calories with nutritional quality. “Being cognizant of calories is important and potentially useful to both adults and children, but only if it is in the context of also thinking about the importance of food quality,” Katz says.
Although I would never recommend that parents teach kids to obsess over or focus solely on calories in each and every item that passes their lips, it’s important for parents to model healthier eating by making mindful choices themselves and offering small portions to their children when eating out. Having calorie counts available provides parents and kids with an opportunity to have a conversation about how a favorite fast food meal, slice of pizza, scoop of ice cream or muffin or cookie measures up compared to different foods or portion sizes of those foods. Choosing more healthful (or at least, less caloric) options in appropriate portions for young kids when dining out can be a first step. But as kids age, it’s important to empower them so that when they’re older, they can make their own healthful choices when eating away from home (e.g. at school, or at a friend’s house). Also, showing kids how the foods they eat fit into their total daily calorie and nutrient needs can really be eye opening. Modeling healthier eating habits and showing kids how they can fit in treats (e.g. high calorie, nutrient poor foods like French fries and cookies) as occasional indulgences rather than staple items can also be a valuable lesson.
Although higher calorie foods like nuts can pack in nutrients, many of the items kids grab when they’re on the go are often loaded not only with calories but with added sugar, fat, and sodium—things that should be limited in kids’ diets. Showing kids how the choices they make and the portions they choose when they’re eating out fit into the rest of the day can be a good lesson, especially when kids need to try to make room for many of the nutritious foods they tend to skimp on like fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
According to the new rules, the statement, “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary” will appear on menus and menu boards to show consumers how the calories in different foods fit into their daily needs and in the context of their entire diet. Although some older kids calorie needs may be on par with that of some adults, younger kids typically require less. According to the new rules, the following may also be used on menus and menu boards targeted to children:
“1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years, but calorie needs vary.”
“1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years and 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children 9 to 13 years, but calorie needs vary.”
I hope that menu labeling will be an empowering wake-up call to kids and parents alike about what’s really in their food. With obesity and diet-related diseases at high levels, it’s critical that we find solutions to help create a more healthful environment that supports making better food choices. This one federal effort may not be THE solution, but it can certainly be part of the solution, especially if it leads restaurants and any venues that serve food to offer smaller portions and/or more nutrient-rich foods. Hopefully, future studies will show that menu labeling can make a dent in our collective calorie intake to help all of us maintain healthy body weights and avert diet-related health problems down the road.
To learn more about the new calorie labeling rules, check out the FDA website.
Also, check my previous Scoop on Food blogs: How Kids Can Eat Better When They Eat Out and New Nutrition Guidance for 2 to 11-Year-Olds.
Do you think providing calorie counts will help kids eat better?
Image of pizza nutrition facts via shutterstock.
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calorie labeling, calories, children, diet, fast food, health, menu labeling, restaurant food | Categories:
Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, November 24th, 2014
As we inch closer to Thanksgiving and a new year, it’s likely you’re at least thinking about how to help your family, especially your children, eat better—and more nutritiously—after what will likely become an indulgent holiday season. To help you get your family into the kitchen to cook and prepare more healthful meals, the new book, The 52 New Foods Challenge: A Family Cooking Adventure for Each Week of the Year is here to help. Written by Jennifer Tyler Lee, creator of the award-winning nutrition game Crunch a Color and contributor at the Huffington Post, the book offers plenty of practical solutions to make meals fun, boost variety (and bust boredom) at the family table and to help families cook together (rather than having parents cook for their kids).
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Tyler Lee via email. Here are some highlights:
Why did you feel compelled to write The 52 New Foods Challenge?
JTL: This story begins at my family table. My daughter’s diet was dominated by white foods. How was I going to get her to eat anything other than pasta? Parents across the country struggle with this same issue, and it can be immensely frustrating. But this is part of a much bigger problem. We are in the middle of a massive health epidemic, and at the heart of it is nutrition. Home cooking is at an all time low, and processed food intake is at an all time high. Diabetes and obesity are rampant. Most troubling is how this trend is affecting our kids—one in three children are overweight or obese. This is of great concern because researchers have seen the diets of children being related to risks of cancer and other conditions later in life. We need to get kids to eat real food to set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits. But parents are overwhelmed. What they need is a simple plan to transform the way their families eat. The 52 New Foods Challenge is my solution to that problem.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
JTL: Math is fun when it’s a puzzle. Reading is fun when it’s about decoding the words. Food is no different. I created a simple game with an easy to remember structure: try one new food each week. It’s manageable, which gets families to take the first step. The book is designed to change your family’s behavior the slow and sustainable way. It’s all about taking small steps to make big changes.
The idea of 52 new foods may sound like a lot to parents. Can those who find that number overwhelming encourage their kids to try fewer new foods and still provide them and their families with some nutritional and other benefits?
JTL: I suggest that parents start by trying one new food, and cooking it together. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get through all 52 weeks. Start with one. Let the seasons be your guide. Remember that “new” can mean a familiar food prepared in a new way, like something as simple as Baked Apple Chips.
What are your two top tips to help families get started on the challenge?
JTL: First, let your kids lead. Put your kids in charge of your new food adventure. Head to the market together and let them pick a new food that they would like to try. Together, choose an easy recipe that you can cook together. Then let them serve it. Second, focus on the fun of the adventure, rather than forcing tasters, and you’ll find that it’s easier to keep going. It’s about the journey the foods take you on.
How do you encourage your kids to eat their colors?
JTL: In the book I say, “Colors in your diet are like instruments in a symphony—the more you have, the richer the experience.” There are a couple of easy ways to boost color at your table. At the market, challenge your kids to fill the cart with color. Aim for five. Bonus points if one of your colors is a new food. It’s also helpful to set up a snack drawer for your kids, organized by color, to make it easy for them to grab healthy food even when it’s hectic (this works equally well for adults). Plan your meals to feature three colors. To make it easy, offer one cooked veggie, like Ridiculous Radicchio Chips, and one raw veggie, like rainbow carrots. Dessert can be colorful too—try seasonal fruit on weeknights, simple treats made at home on the weekend.
JTL: Can you share a recipe to please parents and young children alike?
Brussels Sprouts Chips* (see recipe below) are the current favorite at our family table. The crispy, crunchy chips are delicious and the recipe is super easy to make. They will definitely be making an appearance on our holiday table.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed (look for small, tight heads with no yellow or brown leaves)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Using your fingers, peel away the leaves from the sprouts.
3. Place the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the oil and salt and toss to combine.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then toss the leaves in the pan. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the sprouts for 15 minutes more or until leaves are crispy and almost burnt. Let your kids watch closely to figure out the best timing for your oven.
Tip: The easiest way to peel the leaves is to cut off the ends, turn the sprouts over and gently pry the leaves away starting at the stem. Keep trimming off the ends as you go to make it easier to peel off the layers. This takes patience (and time), but it’s a fun activity for your kids. As you get closer to the center, the leaves will become too tight to peel, so simply save the small pieces to saute or roast.
*Source: The 52 New Foods Challenge.
How do you encourage your family to try new foods?
Image of Brussels Sprouts Chips via Chris Chowaniec.
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Monday, November 17th, 2014
If the upcoming holiday season gives you angst when it comes to food and all the temptations, this guest post by Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D. provides some great tips to help you and your kids eat better and still enjoy yourselves. Read on to see what Ward, my esteemed colleague and the author of My Plate for Moms: How to Feed Yourself and Your Family Better, has to say about how to navigate this time of year—and all year—without sabotaging your family’s healthy diet.
Healthy babies are born with the knack to regulate their appetite; they eat when they’re hungry and they stop when they’re full. But early in life, most of us learn how to override that inborn ability. We discover that brownies tastes better than broccoli, salty crackers trump fruit, and soda is more fun than plain milk, and we want more junk food whether we are hungry or not.
Sure, some kids (not my three!) naturally clamor for carrot sticks and hummus, and could care less about overdoing it on cookies, snack chips, and sugary drinks, but they are the exceptions. Truth is, many children, especially younger ones, lack self-restraint—putting the brakes on when they’ve had enough or avoiding a certain food altogether—in favor of instant gratification.
It’s really no wonder why self-restraint, a.k.a., willpower, is so difficult to practice. Restraint is pushed to the limits in a world where children and their parents are bombarded all day long with messages and opportunities to eat sugary and fatty foods, and lots of them.
As parents, we want to teach our children self-restraint (many of us parents would like to have more of it ourselves, at least sometimes). The trick is to help kids pay attention to their hunger without policing every bite they take and to avoid food fights. Excessive monitoring of a youngster’s food intake stifles his or her independence, and may lead to overeating when you’re not around.
How to Build Willpower
Self-control is a lot like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets, according to researcher Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. The authors of a recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine suggest that healthy lifestyle choices may help better preserve the part of the brain that governs self-restraint. The authors also theorize that certain environments help reduce the temptation to overeat.
Here are six tips to help you help kids limit their intake of junk food without becoming the food police:
• Plan to succeed. It’s much easier to make poor food decisions when you’re famished. Plan meals and snacks with adequate protein, such as dairy, lean meat, beans and eggs, and fiber-filled foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help you and your kids feel fuller for longer. Don’t keep tempting foods like candy, cookies, and chips in the house (Note from Elisa Zied: If you do keep a few empty calorie, nutrient-poor treats in the house, store them on a high shelf behind closed doors to minimize mindless eating.)
• Sleep your way to self-restraint. Researchers suggest that when you’re well rested, it’s easier to walk away from that pint of premium ice cream that’s calling your name. It’s the same for children: self-restraint is more likely with a consistent pattern of adequate slumber. Show your children that you value sleep as part of healthy living.
• Model restraint. Actions speak louder than words. Limiting yourself to two cookies instead of gorging on six helps teach your children to better control themselves. In addition, by committing to modeling good eating habits for the sake of the kids by not overindulging, you strengthen your own willpower “muscle.”
• Create positive peer pressure. Other children and adults may play a role in what your child eats. For the most part, surround yourself with people who will make it easier for your child to consume reasonable portions of high-calorie foods on limited occasions. Take the lead by serving healthy foods and limiting treats when your children have play dates.
• Recognize the limits of self-control. Willpower is a limited resource. All day long you and your child do things that sap your inner energy reserves, like get up early for work when you’d rather sleep in, or, in your child’s case, sit quietly at his desk when he’d like to be running around the playground. It’s much more difficult to control the urge to splurge when you’re feeling stressed, which makes it that much more important to organize your household and eating routine to reduce temptation.
• Trust your inner child. Your internal hunger cues may have dulled with time, but there’s plenty of hope for your son or daughter’s (and yours!). Start today to trust your child’s instinct by not overfeeding them. Don’t use any food, particularly sugary or fatty treats, as rewards. The earlier in life you start to do this, the easier it will be to teach self-restraint in the long run.
To help kids eat less and better, check out a recent Scoop on food post here.
How do you help your kids eat less and better?
Image of willpower via shutterstock.
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