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The Real Food Diet




Excerpted from
Fit Kids: Raising Physically and Emotionally Strong Kids with Real Food
By Eileen Behan

I was so embarrassed. My son's preschool sent home a note early in the year asking parents not to send candy for snacks. Today, when I picked him up, he said they wouldn't let him eat his fruit roll-up, that it was really candy. It's not like I buy the cheap stuff, it's made with real fruit." - Mother of a four-year-old boy

Despite increasing prosperity, teens today are at high risk for poor nutrition. - Talking with Teens: The YMCA Parent and Teen Survey

You know from earlier chapters that becoming overinvolved in what your child eats and restricting your child's food intake can backfire by causing weight gain and disordered eating, and can even damage the relationship between parent and child. So how can you help your child reach his natural weight without being inappropriately involved? By being involved in those areas where your involvement is essential and appropriate. These areas include: shopping, scheduling meals, planning snacks, and establishing family rules about behavior at the table.

To put your child on a diet that will help her reach her natural weight you must make real food readily available. On the following pages, you will find suggestions for Everyday choices, Sometime choices, and Occasional choices. The foods listed as Everyday choices are examples of minimally processed, real food. These are the foods you and your child should eat every day. Foods carried in the Sometime choices are more refined, have added salt and sugar or are higher in fat than the Everyday choices. Foods in the Occasional choices are processed, carry less nutrition and more calories, and are often the foods kids can't regulate well.

Review these food groups with your child and family, explain that your family will be using them as a guide to keep well nourished and healthy. Explain to your child that this is not punishment, but is an example of how you choose to show love for yourself and your family by ensuring everyone's good health. There are no forbidden foods either. Your child can eat anything; however, good nutrition will determine the foods purchased and served most often. Your child will do best if she eats three meals, and selects snacks from a list you've decided on together. On most days, each child must be served the foods he needs from each food group. At a minimum that is: two fruits, three vegetables, six grain/starch, two-three calcium, two protein.

There is not a hard-and-fast rule for how often to eat Sometime and Occasional choices. To start, I recommend you use these foods half as much as you use them now. For example, if you are serving french fries (a vegetable placed in the Occasional choice) four times a week, reduce that to twice a week. Another way to use this system is to think of the foods in the Everyday choices as foods that can be served seven days a week, Sometime choices three times per week, and Occasional choices once per week. Of course you must use common sense. If you serve a variety of food but most of it comes from the Sometime and Occasional choices your child's overall menu will not be made up of food that will help him reach his natural weight. You can use the food records you will complete in the next chapter to assess how often Sometime and Occasional choices are served in your menu. You can also think back on or look at old grocery lists: if you are regularly buying chips, juice drinks, boxes of granola or cereal bars, creme-filled cookies, or commercially made muffins you may have identified some of the foods that are causing your child to overeat. Again this does not mean your child can't have a chip or a cookie, it just means they need to be eaten occasionally, not every day.

What about Calories?

Counting calories is rarely a worthwhile tool, but there are things parents and children should know about caloric needs. A calorie is a unit that measures how much energy a food will provide to the body. Everybody needs calories.

The number of calories anyone needs is dependent upon activity and energy expended, body size, and health (see Recommended Energy Needs for Healthy Children). Children require additional energy for growth. At about age ten, boys start to need more calories than girls, taller children need more food than shorter kids. If energy intake is consistently greater than one needs, the extra calories are stored as body fat. If this imbalance continues, an increase in total body weight or body composition will occur.

People burn calories while resting, as well as when active. It even takes calories to bum calories; about 5 to 10 percent of the total calories we eat is used to metabolize food. Age, sex, body size, genes, physiology, even climate affect energy needs. Energy requirements can be estimated but not with great precision outside of a research lab.

If your health care provider has identified your child as being overweight, and there is no medical explanation, then it is a matter of too many calories in and not enough calories used in the form of activity. This means your child is out of balance. To get him back on track you need to offer your child the food he requires from the major food groups and make thoughtful decisions about snacks and desserts. You will also need to evaluate your child's level of activity.



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