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I’ll be the first to admit my kids overeat. Although it’s mostly healthy foods like plenty of fruits, vegetables and beans, they constantly ask for seconds or something else.
I do my best to have ongoing conversations with them about portion control, how to listen to their hunger cues and eating when they’re hungry instead of when they’re bored, but it’s still a challenge.
If your child eats too much too, it’s something you’ll want to keep tabs on whether or not they’re overweight. Teaching kids healthy eating habits early on can reduce the risk for weight-related health conditions like high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes, help them have a healthy relationship with food and avoid becoming an emotional eater.
Here are some ideas to cope when you child eats too much.
1. Ask yourself, “are my kids really hungry?”
This can be a tough one because you can’t really know for sure how your child is feeling and whether he’s hungry or not, but there are some things to consider.
For starters, if your kid eats balanced meals: those that include protein, fiber and healthy fats, they should satisfy his hunger. If the meals aren’t nutritious however, (i.e. white pasta with butter), your child might be very well be hungry because he’s not getting what his body and brain need.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, younger kids like preschoolers need to eat 3 meals a day and at least two snacks, while older kids need three meals and at least one snack a day. Check out ChooseMyPlate.gov, which has meal and snack pattern recommendations for kids by age and caloric needs.
2. Cut the junk food
If your child eats foods with refined, white flour and those with simple carbohydrates like processed, packaged foods, she may be asking for snacks all the time. These foods spike your child’s blood sugar and can make her crave even more.
3. Make sleep priority
One of the reasons kids eat too much has to do with a lack of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many kids don’t get enough sleep and some get less than their parents think they need.
When kids are sleep-deprived, the hormones that affect appetite can get all out of whack. Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” which tells our bodies to eat, ramps up while leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, slows down, making it more likely that your kid will overeat.
4. Help your child cope with tough emotions
If your child ate a meal an hour ago and asks for a snack, chances are he’s bored, irritable or tired. If you think that’s the case, address the need. Find something else to do like going for a walk or a bike ride, taking a few minutes for some deep breathing or to read a book, or simply offer a hug.
5. Keep kids hydrated
Since thirst can often be mistaken for hunger especially during the summer months, make sure your child is drinking water regularly to stay hydrated.
6. Take a step back
Just as we as adults can have days where our appetites seem to be in overdrive such after a tough workout or because of hormones, take into account the reasons your child may be eating too much. If she plays sports, is an active child or is going through a growth spurt, she may be legitimately hungry.
7. Set boundaries
I don’t recommend labeling foods “good” or “bad” but if your child eats too much, setting up boundaries is one of the healthy eating habits kids should take with them throughout their lives.
Instead of allowing kids to graze all day, do your best to have structured meal and snack times and consider “closing” the kitchen after dinner, for example.
8. Prepare for parties
Holidays, parties and special events are times when we all tend to indulge and overeat, and our children are no exception. Although kids should have opportunities to try new foods and enjoy them, they can also eat too much, they get sick.
Before you leave for a party, make sure your kid has a snack that includes protein and fiber like carrot sticks with hummus or plain Greek yogurt with raspberries to help satiate his hunger and prevent him from overeating at the event.
9. Make room for treats
If you’re overly restrictive and don’t allow your child to have any sweets or desserts, it could backfire. Kids can sneak food or overindulge when they’re with their friends or away from home.
The key is striking a balance: make sure your child is eating healthy foods at least 80 percent of the time and the other 20 can be designated for treats. How often your child is allowed to eat treats is up to you: maybe it’s once a day, a few times a week or only on the weekends.