The Endless Eater

Although many parents are concerned about their children eating healthy foods, there are also some who need help with a child who seems to eat endlessly.  These parents have observed that if there is food available, their child will continue to eat.  So if the advice is to let your child decide when they have had enough to eat, what do we do with these children, let them eat endlessly?

That might not be a bad first step.  What would happen if you let the child eat until they decided that they had enough?  How long would they actually continue to eat, especially if you are choosing what foods to offer?  By demonstrating to your child that you are willing to let them make the decision to stop you are proving that you respect their ability to make this decision.  Sometimes allowing them to eat as long as they would like to, assures your child that they are truly in control of their food intake and that there will be enough food if they need it.  This may offer the child enough security to start to eat only what they need at the time.

There are other reasons why a child may seem to eat too much at a snack or meal.  Consider the timing of meals.  If meals are too far apart, then when a child is offered food they may eat as much as they can for as long as they are allowed.  They are protecting themselves from becoming over-hungry and/or because they don’t trust that the next offering of food will happen within a comfortable time for them.  Most children need to be offered a snack or meal every 2.5-3.5 hours.  If this is regularly not happening a child may eat for as long as possible when given the opportunity.

Some children have very high pleasure responses to foods.  These children are eating because it tastes good, eating gives them pleasure.  These children need to be reminded that we stop eating when our bodies feel full, or sated.  After a reasonable amount of food has been eaten ask this child, “Are you felling full, does your belly feel like you have had enough?” Keep helping your child to become sensitive to the feeling that food gives their body, not just their tongue/brain connection.  Guide them to feel a connection between food and reaching a comfortable fullness.  If a child appears to have eaten too much you might ask, “I know that food taste good, but how does your stomach feel?  Is it too full?” Remind them that they need to feel their bellies during eating to know when to stop.

Some children start a meal with gusto.  They can’t seem to get the food in fast enough.  Then you may notice that their pace starts to slow, they are becoming easily distracted, and they are engaging in more conversation or starting to play with others or their food.  As soon as that starts, ask this child if they have had enough food.  Let them know that they can have more later, but maybe now is a time to take a break.  Let them leave the table and find something else to do if the food will be too much of a distraction.

Keep in mind that children offered healthy foods at regular intervals over the course of their week will take in the nutrients and energy that they need.  Once you have done this your job is to only offer suggestions or observations when you feel that eating is becoming inappropriate. Connecting the inappropriate eating with an undesirable effect allows the child to realize that they need to make a change.


Food Choices Are Not Erratic

Today in class I noticed that a child whose mother thought no longer ate cheese was eating cheese.  I asked mom about this and she responded that since the child was offered cheese in class several weeks ago she is eating it again at home, but not orange cheese.  I explained that although this seemed erratic, it is typical and normal.  Our children eat not just what they know they enjoy due to taste, smell, appearance or texture, but what they are nutritionally drawn toward.

 So how do we, as mindful a parents, know what our children need nutritionally each meal or day?  We don’t, so our job is to offer a variety of healthy food over the course of the day.   Don’t fall into the trap of offering what you think your child will eat or not offering foods that they have previously refused.  This back fires in two ways.  One, even though a child ate a food once, or even if that food has been the favorite food for a few days, that doesn’t necessarily indicate the child will eat it at this time.  Two, if you only offer foods you believe your child will accept, you will slowly narrow food choices and eventually decide that you have a picky eater.

 When it is time for a snack or meal, think: what would I like my child to eat, what do I have, what is manageable at this time (do you want to cook or not, do you have a short or long time for eating, etc?).  Once you have made this choice put the food in front of your child.  They can eat or not.  Of course you can always choose to offer the current favorite food once or twice a day, as part of any meal or snack. But keep rotating in a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, beans, nuts, seeds, oils, and fish as every food has it’s own unique nutritional profile.  You have done your job.

Sugar, Salt and Fat, Oh My

Is it bad for my child to have chocolate chip waffles? What about salt in their vegetables?  I get questions similar to these all the time and my answer is always the same no matter what high fat, high salt or high sugar food I am asked about.  Allowing your baby or child an occasional food with a high amount of fat, sugar or salt will not harm them today.  Just be careful that these foods are used mindfully; that you are fully aware that you are serving a fun food, not a nutritious one.

We don’t want to feed high (saturated) fat, sugar and salt foods to our babies on a regular basis of several reasons, all health related.  We know that too much fat and sugar lead to a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Obesity can lead to the previous diseases and can also cause back pain, sleep apnea, and some cancers.  Too much salt can cause high blood pressure which can lead to vascular and kidney disease.  All of these medical conditions occur after a life-long pattern of too much salt, sugar and/or fat. 

The best defense is to not allow our babies and children to become accustomed to these tastes, flavors, and textures.  We don’t want them to have an excess of salt, fat and sugar in their diet because then they will expect it, it becomes normal.  Most processed foods and restaurant foods are too salty, sugary or fatty.  Beware of canned goods, frozen foods, boxed meals, even breakfast cereals.  A child fed mostly processed and restaurant foods will develop an expectation for too much salt, sugar and fat.  So a whole wheat waffle without chocolate chips butter and syrup, a baked potato without butter and salt, or strawberries not dipped in sugar become unacceptable.  To avoid taste dependence on salt, fat and sugar, serve mostly whole foods: grains, beans, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, fish, and some dairy such as unflavored yogurt or milk.  Babies enjoy the tastes, textures and smells of real, fresh, unprocessed and wholesome foods.  Don’t take that gift away.

Kids Are On Automatic

My son has never been an adventurous eater.  In the past I have referred to him as the camel, waiting for fun food and loading up and by-passing most of the healthy stuff.  But an amazing transition has occurred.  My son was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive tract.  Many children with Crohn’s are small in height for their age, as is my son.  Before his treatment for Crohn’s he had not grown at all in 3 years, he is currently 9 years old and wears size 6 pants. 

Now that he is being treated for this condition an amazing transformation has taken place.  He is eating, a lot.  And he is chosing healthy nutritious foods.  He is also asking to taste foods that I have been serving for years but he has previously rejected.  A typical day for my son is:  2 multigrain waffles with syrup, a few nuts and raisins, pretzels, yogurt, an apple or pear, 1/2 cup to 1 cup refried beans with melted cheese, enriched chocolate soy milk, another apple or pear, 2 large pieces of vegetarian lasagna, carrot and cucumber sticks, 1 cup of low-fat ice cream, maybe another waffle or pretzel.  I offered to buy my son a snack at an asian grocery store, anything he wanted including cookies or snack foods.  He chose crab sushi, gobbling down 5 of the 6 rolls as I wandered the aisles. 

But what is so gratifying to me is that  his body is forcing him to eat both more quantity and greater quality as it is now ready to grow.  Since October when he started treatment he has grown 1/2 inch and gain 1 pound, not bad for a kid that hasn’t grown in three years.  This validates what I have been teaching parents for year: offer healthy foods to your child and they will be drawn to what they need.

No Dessert Unless You Eat Your Dinner

“No dessert unless you eat your dinner.”  Does that remind you of yourself when you come home from work?  Is that how you want your kids to remember you? As the parent that is gone all day, comes home, yells at the kids and denies them dessert?  Probably not.  You are likely a very loving, concerned, hard working parent.  So don’t let meal time make you in to the bad guy or girl.

 When the family sits down to eat, don’t comment on what your kids are eating or not.  Whoever provided the meal has already done the adult job, offering appropriate food at appropriate intervals.  At this point you have three jobs.  First is to model table manners, and correct inappropriate table manners.  Second is to model food acceptance by eating and enjoying the food.  Third is to have conversation with your children.  Don’t talk about anything that would make your child uncomfortable at the table, find other times to discuss problems.  Family meals are not the time to reprimand for past poor judgment, errors, or moments of downright meanness, or to warn against similar errors in the future.  Think of the dinner table as a place where everyone comes with a clean slate.

 If your child refuses to eat a certain food, or eat nothing at all, be nonjudgmental.  Feel free to remind them that if they are hungry now is the time to eat and that there will be no food offered after dinner.  Don’t let them have anything that is not on the table.  Don’t let them make a snack after dinner.  You don’t have to punish them for not eating; hunger will be a natural consequence if they choose not to eat. 

 Some children have eaten enough calories (energy) and met their nutritional needs in the 4-5 eating opportunities they had previous to dinner time.  Therefore by dinner time they can afford to be picky.  If a child hasn’t fulfilled their energy and nutritional needs and chooses not to eat, their body will provide appropriate feedback.  You don’t have to.  You can continue to enjoy your meal and your family.

What about dessert?  Let your child eat it whether they have eaten or not.  Don’t get into a power struggle.  An appropriate portion of dessert is not a big deal.  Arguing, bribing, or negotiating with your child every night is the problem, not the dessert  If your child has already consumed the necessary nutrients and calories they need for the day, they are eating the dessert solely because it taste good, which is why everyone eats dessert.  If your child did not get enough calories and nutrients during the day, eating the dessert will not satisfy their body.  They will be hungry in short order; their body is providing the feedback, not you.  If they ask for snack, remind them that they chose not to eat dinner and that now they need to wait for snack.  Some children do very well when the dessert is offered during the dinner.  The child will eat their portion of dessert first so the tension is gone.  Now they can enjoy the meal. They will eat if they are still hungry.  You are smiling, relaxed, calm, and happy to be home with your family.

Corn Sugar And Other Sweet Secrets

Corn Sugar And Other Sweet Secrets


High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is tired of being the evil demon of food.  So the corn industry, which produces HFCS from corn, is changing the name to corn sugar.  Sounds down-right healthy doesn’t it.  What could possible by the problem with an extract of corn?  But keep in mind any type of sugar added to any food is not healthy.  Furthermore, a study at Princeton University in March 2010 found that when rats were fed the same amount of calories of either HFCS or sugar, those that ate the HFCS gained weight and had symptoms related to heart disease and obesity.  The researchers theorized that HFCS, with a higher percentage of fructose than sucrose, is stored as fat, where extra calories of sugar are stored as energy.   

The sugar industry also pulls one over on us in two other ways.  The first is by having sugar on the nutrition label of food packaging listed in grams.  Do you know how much sugar is 31 grams, the amount of sugar found in 6 ounces of many fruit flavored yogurts?  If the amount of sugar was listed in teaspoons or tablespoon, people would have some idea of how much sugar is in a serving of the product.  If the sugar listed on the nutrition label of yogurt was 8.5 teaspoons or 2.75 tablespoons would you have an image of this amount?  Would you still consider this product healthy?  What about a can of soda with 42 grams of sugar in 12 ounces (10.5 teaspoons or 3.5 tablespoons) or juice with 24 grams(6 teaspoons, or 2 tablespoons) in 6 ounces?

 Secondly, manufacturers are not required to list how much sugar is added sugar versus naturally occurring sugar. A portion of the sugar in yogurt is naturally occurring as milk has a naturally occurring sugar called lactose.  Six ounces of plain yogurt has 12-16 grams of sugar, all naturally occurring.  So if a flavored yogurt has 31 grams, the difference (15 grams) is added sugar.  Added sugar is in many processed foods, not just dessert foods. You will find them in other foods such as tomato sauce, salad dressing, frozen meals, bread and canned soups, to name just a few. 

Beverly Pressey is a Registered Dietician with Master’s degrees in Education and Nutrition and specializes in working with care givers of babies and children.  Beverly has worked with individuals, presented at conferences, consulted with child care centers, taught continuing education and college classes, and presented at numerous parent groups.  As an experienced counselor, cook, teacher, speaker and a mother of 2, she has a realistic understanding of infant/child eating patterns plus the perspective of a busy parent.  Beverly lives in Seattle, Washington, find out more about her and her book at

Avoiding Childhood Obesity in 3 Steps

The March issue of Pediatrics had an article entitled  “Household Routines and Obesity in U.S. Preschool-Aged Children”  It stated that “Preschool children exposed to three household routines — regularly eating family meals, getting adequate sleep, and limiting screen-viewing time — had a roughly 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity than those exposed to none of these routines.”  Notice the word “routines”.  This infers that these practices are a regular part of your daily pattern of life. 

Becoming a parent means purposely deciding which actions and reactions you will weave into your life style in order to support the growth and development of your child.  Once established, you have routines, habits and custom that support your intent to parent . 

Obesity is an issue that we are all aware of.  It’s cause if multi-factorial.  There are many sources working against you; media, marketing, and entertainment.  Visual and audio cues are everywhere.  You can choose to fight.  Choosing three routines can lessen the chance of your child becoming obese by 60%.

  • Have family meals
  • No screen time for children under 2, 1 hour /day for children under age 5
  • Support and respect your child’s need for adequate sleep.

In addition to decreasing the chance of obesity, there are other benefits.  If you embrace these routines you won’t have to decide on a daily basis if your child can watch TV or other screens.  You don’t have to wonder who will be available for dinner.  You will automatically schedule activities that end before bedtimes.  These become the natural customs and habits of your family.