Keep kids from grazing

June 06, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Let your children eat how much they want to, but set mealtimes and cut out the grazing so they don't spoil their appetite.

That's the crux of registered dietitian and family therapist Ellyn Satter's idea to prevent children from becoming overweight.

Satter, from Madison, Wis., was in Washington County recently to share her ideas with health and food service experts from around the state, including the Washington County Health Department and Washington County Public Schools.

"My task in life is to solve feeding and eating problems," said Satter, a psychotherapist with a specialty in eating and feeding problems, and is author of several books on the subject.


From experimenting with her own patients, whose families had requested her help to stem their child's overeating or overweight issues, Satter found that structured mealtimes were the answer.

"My philosophy is: Provide for children, don't deprive them," Satter said.

Meals should be balanced, wholesome and enjoyable with different fat-content levels, Satter said. Don't try to make low-fat meals.

If children are allowed to eat until they are satisfied - knowing when the next meal will be, they'll do a better job of regulating how much they eat and grow the way they need, Satter said.

Satter found at least three large studies that limited food portions, fat, and sugar or salt content for schoolchildren's meals, encouraged them to eat more fruits and vegetables, and sets nutritional levels concerning what they should eat.

At the end of at least two years, the children were no fatter or thinner, Satter said. That's because the youths compensated for the diet changes at school by eating fatty and salty foods at home, she said.

The school's responsibility is not to slim children down, but do their part with good parenting with food, Satter said.

The key is structure.

That can be difficult with school lunchtimes and families so busy that often dinner comes from a drive-through or the children have to fend for themselves, said Tammy Thornton, nutrition/wellness services coordinator for the county health department.

Family meals can be done with some planning, she said.

Last Wednesday, Thornton knew she would be working late, so the previous night she set up dinner in the crockpot for her family, she said. Other times, she marinates something overnight, so it can be grilled the next day.

School lunches are a different matter.

Some Washington County Public Schools students eat as early as 10:30 a.m. and Eastern Elementary School is still serving lunch at 1 p.m., said Sharon Walker, area manager for food and nutrition services for the school system. The varied mealtimes are due to 90-minute classes in the high schools or population growth at elementary schools.

Satter said structured meals can include a snack right after school so children's appetites for dinner aren't spoiled.

She'd like to see vending machines removed from schools or at least have access limited to lunchtime to discourage grazing, Satter said.

Walker said vending machines in Washington County school cafeterias are available during lunchtime.

Soda vending machines in other areas of the schools are supposed to be on timers - although it's not always done - so they cannot be accessed until after the end of the lunch period, Walker said. This prevents students from spoiling their appetites and allows them to snack after school or during evening activities.

The only vending machines available all day are the milk machines, Walker said. The other machines have juice, water and snacks such as Doritos but no candy bars. None of the single-serving snacks have more than 9 grams of fat or 15 grams of sugar.

Elementary schools have no vending machines.

Strategy works

Satter came to her conclusions after years of working with "the casualties of poor feeding," she said. She found children with eating problems usually spoil their appetites by grazing.

Satter said her strategy works, supporting children so they grow in a way that's appropriate for them.

"If you mean, it keeps them thin and cookie-cutter children, no, it doesn't work," she said.

Satter said size and shape are genetically based. Environmental factors such as extreme stress, irregular meals or not knowing when they will be fed and thereby creating a preoccupation with eating make a child thin or fat.

She hesitates to define childhood obesity with a child being overweight because she believes a child's longitudinal growth records, including a record of weight and height measured over several years - should be taken into account.

It's OK if the child's growth is consistent, Satter said. To determine what consistent growth is, check with your pediatrician.

Questions to ask

Here are some questions parents can ask themselves to determine whether they are doing a good job feeding and parenting.

· Do you have regular and reliable sit-down family meals and sit-down snacks?

· Do you include a variety of good-tasting, wholesome food?

· Do you regularly include "forbidden" foods at meal and snack times so your child doesn't sneak around and overeat these foods?

· Do you trust your child to decide what and how much to eat from the food you provide?

According to registered dietitian and family therapist Ellyn Satter, the answers should be yes.

- Source: Ellyn Satter, author of "Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming"

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