ZisBoomBah’s child health and nutrition experts usually answer reader questions about nutrition and diet here. This time, I needed advice on raising my little healthy eater. Our 7-year-old daughter is very active, always on the move. Lately, her barely-there eating schedule was beginning to concern me. With the Lovely L. eating small yet frequent portions throughout the day, the lines between meals and snacks have begun to blur.
I’d imagine most health-conscious parents ponder a sensible eating schedule for their child. So I enlisted no other than the reputable child nutrition guru and ZisBoomBah contributor Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA to tell me whether I needed to reign in my daughter’s eating behavior to protect her health or I could let her eat when she’s hungry, as long as she was eating healthy.
Healthy Eating in Response to Activity
Though I didn’t think this was a big factor with this particular issue, it was important to point out to Dr. Ayoob that the Lovely L. has type 1 diabetes. She is on an insulin pump and her blood sugar levels are well managed. Her meals and snacks are defined; she sits down at the table to eat and has a glass of water with her food. So I wouldn’t call this grazing. But this is how most weekdays go down: She eats a healthy breakfast at home. In school, she eats a midmorning snack, an early lunch and an afternoon snack around 2 o’clock — all healthy foods, brought from home. When my daughter gets off the school bus shortly before 3 o’clock, the first words out of her mouth are, “I’m staaarving.” So she eats another afternoon snack. She is very athletic and has after-school sports activities most afternoons, from rock climbing to karate, swimming and yoga. After sports — you guessed it — she is hungry again! By the time we finally sit down for dinner, she usually only eats a few bites, though that doesn’t concern me, because I know she would eat if she were hungry. What’s more, she generally eats balanced, healthful foods.
“I’m actually not worried,” Dr. Ayoob said, much to my relieve. “She’s very active, which is awesome, and she’s able to refuse food when she’s not hungry.” This is true. We never press our daughter to eat or eat more. Dr. Ayoob’s advice helped me understand that not forcing kids to eat when they don’t want to is key to allowing them to eat when they are hungry. Rather than enforcing an eating schedule with our daughter, we are taking the “yin and yang” approach to eating healthy.
“She seems to be eating in response to activity,” Dr. Ayoob assessed. The expert also called her eating lightly at night “a blessing,” explaining that most kids want to eat heavily at night, which is difficult to manage for parents, in his experience. He commended that she “frontloads her calories” early in the day, prepping her for activity later.
Trimming Kids’ Hunger with Protein
Trimming my active girl’s hunger is “all about focusing on protein,” according to our nutrition expert. “The protein keeps the hunger pangs away for a longer period and won’t raise her glucose levels appreciably,” Dr. Ayoob said. His suggestions included string cheese and hardboiled eggs (try halved with mustard or stuffed with hummus). Greek yogurt is another great option for kids (plain, topped with fresh berries and sweetened with agave nectar). I also loved his idea to fill an empty Altoids tin with almonds and keep it in your child’s school backpack for hunger pangs on the go. Almonds provide great nutrition, fiber, protein and healthful fat.
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