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How to Raise a Healthy, Structured Eater

The best way to bring up a child so he or she does not develop an eating problem is to exercise moderation with food. Do not be extremely strict and rigid on one hand or give him or her total and complete freedom on the other hand. Your child will be more likely to grow up automatically regulating food intake if you respect the following division of responsibilities:

Your job:

1. Have good, healthy food in the house for meals and snacks. Children can be counted on to get enough junk food when away from home. You do not have to feel like you are depriving your child if you do not have a constant supply of junk food in the house.

2. Present meals and snacks at consistent times each day. Eating should only occur at preset times. Then your child will have fewer opportunities to learn to use food inappropriately to meet emotional or psychological needs rather than for nourishment.

Importance of regular family meals for children:

* Children who eat more frequent family dinners have healthier diets (more fiber, calcium, iron and less saturated fat).

* Family meals are an opportunity to model positive eating behaviors and healthy food preferences to your children. Children acquire food preferences from those around them.

* Family dinners also strengthen family ties and help secure children emotionally.

3. Create a healthy emotional atmosphere regarding food and dieting. You should not pressure your child to be a certain weight. Food should be a health and nutrition issue rather than a weight issue for every member of the family. No child should be singled out and fed in a different manner because of his or her weight. A child’s weight is his or her own issue. If an overweight child decides independently that he or she would like to lose weight, you may be a support person.

4. One of the most important jobs you have is to be a good role model. If you have a healthy relationship with food, your child is more likely to grow up with one also. Model to your child that food is for health and nourishment rather than for entertainment or emotional needs. If you would like your child to eat a variety of healthy food and try new foods, you need to set an example.

5. Encourage your child to be physically active. This means limiting the amount of time your child watches TV and plays on the computer. Involve your children in fun types of exercise.

6. Be a nurturing, attentive parent in general. Work on family issues so your child will be less likely to eat out of stress.

Your child’s job:

1. Your child is in charge of deciding what to eat from the healthy food that you have made available. Do not make an issue of whether your child tries a new healthy food or not. Bribing or using other tactics to get your child to eat a certain food will not be effective in the long run. Serve the new food on a regular basis. A child will be more likely to try a new food as it begins to look more familiar.

Your child is also in charge of how much he or she eats. If you restrict the amount of food your child eats, he or she will lose the ability to automatically regulate his or her own food intake. They will be so worried they will not get enough to eat, that when food is available, they will eat just because they have the opportunity.

-By Marlene Lesson

Marlene Lesson is Nutritional Director of Structure House, a residential weight loss facility in Durham, NC., that offers a unique behavioral approach to weight loss and healthy lifestyle change.