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Health Issues

Structured Eating

As you might guess, when you have a child trying to lose weight, you need to pay particular attention to mealtimes. They should be firmly structured, not only for your obese youngster, but for the entire family.

In general, 3 meals and 1 to 2 snacks per day, without any meal skipping, are optimal (if your child skips a meal, she’ll become over hungry and set herself up for overeating). Also, if she knows that dinner is going to be served at 6:00 pm, she’ll be less likely to start searching for a snack at 5:30 pm, whereas if dinner is served at a different time every night (for example, sometimes at 6:00 pm, but other times at 8:00 pm), she might grab a snack at 5:30 pm rather than risk having to wait 2 or 3 hours for her hunger pangs to be satisfied. There’s another very important element to structured eating, and that’s ensuring that the family eats together as often as possible with no distractions. In too many homes, families rarely sit down for a meal together, and when they do, the TV is on and no one (except maybe for a sitcom star or the local newscaster) says a word throughout the dinner hour. The TV is a disruption that you should avoid while you’re eating.

Just how important are family meals? In many households, they’re the only period of the day when the family is together, giving every adult and child an opportunity to talk about what happened at school or work. It’s a time when the family can grow closer to one another. It’s also a time to teach your child about healthy, balanced meals and optimal portion sizes and when you can serve as a role model for healthy eating. You can also offer encouragement to your youngster, celebrate her successes, and reassure her if she’s having difficulties. As an added benefit, you’ll be able to keep an eye on what and how much she is eating.

One other note—these family meals will probably become less common as your child enters adolescence. Once she’s involved in rehearsals for the high school play or is gone because of a part-time job at the local pharmacy, you’ll covet those days when the family could be together at the dinner table. Treat these opportunities as precious moments that will become some of your sweetest family memories many years down the road.

Weekend Perils

Some parents feel they’ve got good control over how their children’s lives unfold during the week. There’s a structure to the day, Monday through Friday, incorporating school and extracurricular activities that helps them effectively manage their children’s nutrition and activity levels.

Then the weekend arrives. The routine that they relied on during the previous 5 days simply isn’t there, and that’s when trouble often rises to the surface. On Saturdays, the kids might end up watching TV from sunup to exhaustion (if you let them). In the process, they’re not getting any exercise, and they’re probably overindulging on snacks when they’re not playing with the remote control. Then there are the weekend dinners at the family’s favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant, or the afternoon at the baseball stadium where everyone has one hot dog too many.

What’s the solution? Saturdays and Sundays need to be planned as carefully as the rest of your child’s week. Help schedule her time so that at least part of every Saturday and Sunday is devoted to physical activity. Sign her up for a Saturday afternoon sports program at the community center. At home, make sure that only healthy snacks are available for her to grab. There’s no need for your child to backslide on the weekends, but it will take some consistent parental planning to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Last Updated
A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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