Friday, October 12, 2007

The Big Size Does Not Fit.

Fridays are devoted to writing about all aspects of nutrition.

Call me a restaurant snob if you want, but I would like to have a reasonable amount of food at a restaurant when I eat out. I guess I got spoiled when I was travelling to Europe and the like as a computer engineer. In France, I noticed that eating out was definitely not the same as in the U.S. For one thing the service was noticeably better. But the main thing that stood out right away was that when I was finished with the meal, I wasn't stuffed. But I wasn't hungry either. I had just the right amount.

I attended a support group meeting last night devoted to families with children who have congenital heart defects. Our speaker was a young lady whose occupation is all about getting children to eat their food and get the proper nutrition. She was a food therapist. We discussed everything from the steps to introduce foods to children to how to supplement nutrition for children.

One of our topics was portion size. She noted that often we overwhelm our children with the amount of food we put on their plate. Her guideline was 1 tablespoon per year of age up to three or four years of age.

The food therapist also pointed out food groupings that parents could use to ensure that children receive the proper nutrition. These groupings are protein, starch and fruit/vegetable. In the case of a two year old, the child would receive at each meal: 2 Tbsp each of protein and starch. Then 2 TBsps of fruit/vegetable.

At age four, the parent would use the new food pyramid to allocate portions. Simply put, children need to take in at least as much as they expend to stay the same. Most children need to take in a little more calories than they obviously expend because growth and activity levels must be accommodated.

The size of the bowls and cups into which we put our child's food will influence how much they want to eat. If our regular size cup is 12 or 16 oz, that is how much we will drink at one sitting. If you buy 9oz. cups, you and your family are far more likely to consume 8oz. of liquid at a time. That allows you to properly portion out high calorie items like juice. Which by the way, your children should have no more than 2 glasses (8 oz. glasses) of juice per day.

Why does it work like that? Wouldn't the kids just get another bowl of whatever. Not necessarily. It depends on the environment in which your children eat. Since the body signals fullness after about 20 minutes of eating, a child may not feel hungry if they take their time eating the sweet cereal.

Eating environment is another area where parents must take charge. Studies have shown that most people will eat more if they eat while watching television. Children get distracted by things like television and radios playing in the other room or the same room while they are eating. If they eat sprawled on the floor or the couch, they digestive systems have a harder time receiving their food. These two factors indicate that sitting up at the table while eating with the family can have a profound effect on your child's eating habits.

Although childhood obesity rates are on the rise in the United States, we have the opposite problem at my house. My daughter must be convinced to eat an adequate amount of food. She will eat nearly anything you give her, but she will more than likely not eat all of it. She also takes a long time to eat. This causes her to feel full when she has not consumed enough calories.

The same problem works in reverse with an overweight child charging through a bag of Doritos in 10 min or less. The body hasn't signalled it is full, so the child grabs another bag of chips. How many calories are in a bag of Doritos? I'm scared to look plus I don't have any in the house. Think about how many two bags might have. Yikes. Then child doesn't go out and play to burn off those calories. It is more than likely that the kid will either watch TV or play video games. Watching TV burns less calories than sleeping. Yikes again.

If we, as parents can give our children a consistent eating routine that is balanced and proper, we will do them a huge favor. If you are curious about the new food pyramid, check out where you can find explanations, online tools and guidelines.
Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.