Children sneaking food is a very challenging issue and one that is facing a big percentage of kids and parents these days. You want them to eat right and maintain a healthy weight but you don't want them obsessing about food and their weight or to lose self-esteem. You especially don't want them so worried about food that it leads to anorexia, bulimia, depression or eating to the point of obesity and all the medical issues that brings.
Here are some tips for parents struggling with children sneaking snacks:
- Talk openly about food and food choices with your children and focus on aspects of health other than weight, such as a healthy heart, healthy immune system and healthy growing (height).
- I believe that kids should be able to have treats once in a while, but that snacks and meals should be as healthy as possible, with the treat coming after eating healthy. This both promotes eating healthy meals and snacks and has the less healthy foods coming when the child is already somewhat full. This will hopefully keep them satisfied with a smaller portion of the treat.
- Compile a list of healthy options that your child can eat as a regular, between-meal snack (fruits and veggies are the best, occasional healthy crackers, low-fat yogurt, nuts if not allergic).
- Be sure that a good amount of water is consumed at the snack time to promote a full feeling; save milk for at meal time.
- If your child is still hungry after normal snack or meal, it is great to have some very low calorie foods to fill-up on, like carrots or celery that can be dipped in something to help improve taste. It would be great to talk about this with your child and develop the "list" for the snack time.
- Be open about a "no-sneaking" rule, and that your kids should not be serving themselves from the kitchen without permission.
- Maintain control over the portion size of the treat after they eat their evening meal and no bedtime snacks, except with special occasions.
- Make sure that you are promoting activity and exercise as part of being healthy. In my experience, this is the most important aspect of managing weight and hunger issues.
If you are consistent with the routine of healthy snacks and meals with occasional treats, hopefully you can maneuver the difficult task of keeping your child eating healthy without the psychological issues. I am a firm believer in communicating about the issues, focusing on the positive and avoiding negative comments about body image. If this plan isn't working, I would suggest seeing your pediatrician and discussing other options such as a nutritionist and/or psychologist.
Craig H. Collison, MD, is a pediatrician with Mount Nittany Physician Group. He treats patients from the Physician Group's Boalsburg and Bellefonte locations. Read more about pediatric care at www.mountnittany.org/pediatrics.