Feeding Your Child

Skinny boy

Most of the first year, you should use the guidelines from your pediatrician in terms of feeding your child. Most babies will plump out a bit which is very normal. Their brains need fat to produce the neurons which are some of the reasons why a low-fat diet for a newborn is a very serious mistake. Tim did not get cows milk (which is more complex than mom's milk or formula) for a year and then it was whole milk (not 2% or anything) until he was 2 or 3. After your child starts to walk and turn into a toddler, most of the first year's pudge will get burned off in a hurry. All you have to ensure is that your child gets proper daily exercise and gets good, healthy food.

But after the first year, I believe very strongly in keeping your child as skinny as possible -- within reason of course. There is medical research which seems to indicate that your child's body shape and weight gets wired into the brain very early on. If they are obese at a young age it will be very hard for them to reset their internal weight monitors later.

So you can see the problem. You can't keep them too skinny initially because growing babies need some fat for proper development but you don't want them large enough that it impedes their exercise so they can burn off their baby fat. Walking the line is very tough but very important and should be monitored carefully.

Right now at 4 years old Tim (picture at right) is skin, bones, and muscle and looks to me like the perfect body shape. We make sure he gets a good variety of reasonably healthy food although he certainly gets his fair share of fries, hotdogs, pizza, and peanut butter sandwiches. Variety is tough if you have a picky eater but try them on as many different foods as you can. It's unreasonable for them to like spinach or brussels sprouts until later but Tim likes steamed (not soggy) broccoli and salad with fun dressings. Aside from some of the initial rice puddings you really should never give food to your child that you wouldn't enjoy as well.

My rule at mealtime is that he has to try everything on his plate. I feel strongly that kids shouldn't have to be made to finish everything on their plate. I think this is completely counterproductive. If they don't want to eat any more then fine. Be especially careful with dessert. It is very hard to get your child to finish the nutritious parts of their dinner if they know that ice-cream is coming at the end. I would recommend that either you reserve dessert for special occasions, maybe once a week, or eat it after the little ones go to bed. Forcing them to eat all of their food so they can get dessert is so backwards it makes my skin crawl.

Activity is probably your biggest tool. The TV and the computer are evil -- the playground is the goal. Force your kids to get up, outside, and run around. Give them toys (frizbees, balls, kites) that require outside activity. Go on nature walks -- even in the city. Sign them up for early sports classes if available -- check your local YMCA or community center. Go for family bike rides. Do anything and everything to get your kids to exercise. In the colder parts of the world, it is much harder in the winter but it still must be done.

Make sure you dress your child (yes even your cute little girl) in tennis shoes and active clothing. Cute little dresses look so nice but it hampers their ability to run around during recess at school. My son's gym teacher cautioned parents about dresses and cute shoes because of this. He has them jumping around the gym counting, spelling, balancing, etc.. According to research, more kids learn through physical activity then any other and individuals that are more aerobically fit process cognitive tasks faster. You do not want to hamper, in any way, your child's ability to move, run, and keep up with the rest of the class.

Rosemary and I have always severely limited Tim's juice intake. Kids drink so much juice in a day that it must be a signficant percentage of their daily caloric intake. Parents think that because it is "juice" that this somehow makes it better because of vitamins but the hard facts are that most are no better than sugar water. If you want your child to get vitamins then get some tasty Flinstones chewables and give them water to drink. Tim does have OJ in the morning but after lunch all he can only have his choice of milk or water. Here's a study from Pediatrics magazine and CDC researchers about obesity and sweet drinks. Many parents also give their child juice in a sippy cup overnight which completely rots their teeth. Just say no to juice or any sweet drinks. Also, be careful about giving them bottled water all of the time. Bottled water does not contain the fluoride that most city water does and your child will be missing out on stronger teeth. Rumor has it that kids' teeth are starting to return to high cavity rates in houses which drink a lot of bottled water. Here's a good page about fluoride and water for your child.

Obesity in America is at epidemic proportions and it's getting worse. Children are getting adult level diabetes and other weight related illnesses at an alarming rate. You have an opportunity to gift your child with a slimmer body for the rest of their lives -- work hard towards this goal. If you are overweight then I assume you have suffered from the stigma and stereotypes. Make sure your little one doesn't get burdened with it too.

Additional Reading

Food and Emotion

My son (and my wife for that matter) often gets in a really bad mood if he gets hungry. His emotion seems to be closely tied to his stomach/blood-sugar. If Tim doesn't get a large enough lunch he often gets very irritable, frustrated, and prone to emotional breakdowns. Ro learned this long ago and does a good job making sure that she eats regularly. Tim, of course, does not have such experience or is not properly listening to his stomach when he's having too much fun.

So when he is misbehaving or seems "not himself" I will offer him some food. The idea also is certainly not to reward bad behavior but just to make sure that his stomach isn't dictating his behavior. You may want to watch for this with your child and have some granola bars or something in your activities bag. It should be healthy snacks if possible and not just sugar which may give a quick boost but not be helpful for long.

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