When kids get hungry and it isn’t meal time, what should they do?
First, it is important to identify if your child is actually hungry. Sometimes, we eat for reasons other than hunger. Sometimes, we eat out of boredom, stress, or celebration.
So, you can take several routes.
1) If it is close to meal time, you can explain that meal time is 30 minutes away and redirect the child to finish homework, help set the table, or play outside until meal time.
2) You can offer a healthy snack choice. If your child refuses the healthy snack, that could be a clue that your child wasn’t truly hungry.
As a parent, you know your child. You may be clued in to some hunger or boredom cues that they are not able to recognize. So, parents have a great opportunity to be healthy role models for their children. We get to teach our children about hunger cues versus eating out of boredom or emotion. You can also seek help with your child’s healthy eating by making an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and visiting Children’s Nutrition Clinic. We have a helpful staff with RDNs that can help you and your family navigate eating in a healthy way. You can visit our website for more information.
What if a parent puts something on a child’s plate that looks scary and gross?
I would encourage parents to be role models and teachers. Take your child to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Let your children help select a food they want to try. Let your child help you prepare foods with age-appropriate kitchen tasks. Teach your children about the food, where it comes from, and how to prepare it. That makes new foods more familiar and less scary.
Secondly, be a healthy role model by enjoying the food with your child. All parents are role models for their children, so let your child see you eat the food and enjoy it.
Third, try offering new foods in different ways. Offer the food cooked in different ways: steamed, roasted, in a soup, with cheese, or raw. Then, you can have the child give their preference on how they most enjoy the food. This changes the question from if your child will or will not eat the food to how they prefer to eat the food. So, we still get the healthy behavior of eating a variety of healthy foods, and your child has a choice that honors their preferences.
Fourth, we want to make sure we are offering new foods in a neutral manner. We should avoid pressuring or forcing our children to clean their plate if they state they are full. Children are usually good at recognizing when they are full. Trying new foods should be a positive experience. Our goal is to encourage healthy eating in a pleasant environment.
What happens to the body when kids consume too much sugar versus what happens when kids eat healthy food?
When we eat foods high in added sugar or fat, we consume many “empty calories.” Empty-calorie foods are high in calories and low in nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Food is our fuel. It gives us energy to grow, learn, and play. We want to fuel our bodies in a healthy way, so we can grow to be strong and healthy. Eating healthy means including nutrient-dense foods, which are packed with vitamins and minerals. We know that eating a healthy, balanced diet fuels our body in a healthy way and can prevent disease later in life.
What are some unexpected sources of too much sugar, fat, etc., something we might not realize is potentially bad for us?
I call these foods “sneaky foods.” We may think we are making healthy choices when we are consuming sneaky sources of sugar. I think most people are surprised that sports drinks, flavored waters, and juices are high in sugar. It is recommended that we limit sugary beverages, like juice, to less than or equal to 4 ounces per day. I encourage families to offer whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices because whole foods have fiber. Fiber helps with satiety (the feeling of fullness), can help lower cholesterol, and helps with ease and regularity of bowel movements.
What are some favorite foods of you and your doctors?
Since it is spring, I love to use the fresh, seasonal produce. I also love putting fruits in my salad. For people that have a sweet tooth adding fruits to salad can be an appealing way to enjoy eating your fruits and veggies! I really love putting strawberries and blueberries in a spinach salad. You can dress it lightly with a vinaigrette-style salad dressing. I like to add cheese, like feta. You can add protein by adding nuts or chicken, and your salad becomes a great, nutrient-dense meal.
How do you explain the idea of moderation?
I use the analogy of a stoplight to discuss moderation. There are some food choices that are high in added sugar, saturated fats, or trans-fats, and those are “red-light foods.” We stop at a red light, so we do the same with these foods. We stop eating these foods on a daily basis and choose these foods very rarely. The next category is “yellow-light foods.” They are foods that we eat occasionally. The third category is “green-light foods.” These foods are nutrient-dense foods that are high in vitamins and minerals. They are healthy foods that we should choose to eat daily. They are “go foods,” so eat and enjoy these foods every day!
If you want more information about the stoplight foods and other ways to eat in moderation and overall health, ask your doctor about referring your family to the Nutrition Clinic.
Denon Stacy, MS, RD, CSP, LD
Clinical Dietician at Children’s Health
Children’s Health is a proud sponsor of PINKALICIOUS, THE MUSICAL running NOW through July 17 at Dallas Children’s Theater. For ticket information, go to dct.org.
About the show: When Pinkalicious doesn’t heed her parents’ warnings and indulges in too many pink goodies, she has to make some healthy choices to fight off a bad case of Pinkititis. Pinkalicious will finally eat a little green, her little brother will no longer be blue, and all kids will learn to show their true colors! The popular book pops off the stage in this high-energy musical treat that kids will love even more than pink cupcakes!