Teaching kids to eat slower, smaller and more often

CHILDREN ARE BORN grazers. If left to their own resources, children would nibble, dip and sip—or graze—their way throughout the day. The eating tips for all ages, especially if they are suffering from mood disorders, overeating or intestinal ailments are:
■ Eat twice as often.
■ Eat half as much.
■ Chew twice as long.

A child’s tummy is about the size of his or her fist. Next time you put a heaping bowl of pasta in front of your child, compare it to your child’s fist and notice the mismatch. Now you’ll understand why your picky eater doesn’t clean his or her plate.

Grazing benefits the brain

The buzzwords for feeding the brain are slow and steady. Grazers have steadier blood sugar and therefore a steadier supply of brain fuel. Parents often tell that once they start encouraging their children to graze throughout the day, their children have fewer behavior and learning problems at school. Grazers tend to:
■ be better able to focus and learn at school and work
■ have steadier moods and behavior
■ be more likely to enjoy weight control that’s right for their body type
■ have more energy.

Grazing is great for the gut

When a gorger wolfs down a huge meal, a big amount of undigested food stays in the intestinal tract, leading to two common “shuns”: indigestion and constipation. If your “gut brain” could talk it would say, “Don’t feed me so much so fast, so that I don’t have to work so hard!” To encourage your child to chew longer, serve crunchy foods. Kids like the sound and mouth-feel of crunchy cereals and celery stalks. Give your child chew messages, such as “Chew, chew times two” or “Chew 20 times.” My family would often play a game, having our children count how many times they chew. Eventually, children get used to chewing longer because they enjoy the mouth-feel and tummy-feel that chewing and grazing give them.

Grazing is good for staying lean

When you graze on frequent mini meals throughout the day, your body enjoys stable insulin levels. Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. When it spikes high throughout the day, such as when you gorge, you store that extra food as extra fat. When you graze, insulin is not so high, which helps keep you lean. Remember, lean does not mean being skinny, but rather having the right body weight for your body type.

Creating a grazing environment

Have nutritious snacks readily available. The ideal snack should:
■ have at least 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Protein and fiber are fill-up foods, helping your child be satisfied longer and with less.
■ contain 100 to 200 calories
■ be crunchy, requiring a lot of chewing

Here’s a trick from the Sears family kitchen for the preschool child: Prepare a nibble tray. Use a muffin tin or a compartmentalized plastic dish and fill each section with bite-size portions of colorful and nutritious foods. Give the foods fun names, such as avocado boats (a quarter of an avocado sectioned lengthwise), banana or cooked carrot wheels, broccoli trees, cheese blocks, little O’s (O-shaped oat cereal), canoe eggs (hard-boiled eggs cut lengthwise in wedges), moons (peeled apple slices, thinly spread with peanut butter), or shells and worms (different shapes of pasta).

By Dr. Bill Sears
@ Costco Connection

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