Can Trusting Our Children Help Prevent Obesity?

A repost from about 1 year ago:

True or False?

Very small portion sizes, fat restriction, and calorie awareness are necessary in controlling weight gain for overweight children and will lead to weight loss if these behaviors are pursued rigorously.

FALSE- Surprised by this answer? You are not alone. Most parents today believe this is the way to control weight in children. However, dietary restriction has been shown to backfire, as it is associated with preoccupation with food, sneaking/hoarding food, eating in the absence of hunger, poorer self-esteem, and further weight gain.

True or False?

Forcing or bribing your child to eat more of a certain type of food will encourage them to eat more nutritious food than they would otherwise.

FALSE-In the short-term, this may be true, but even forcing a child to eat more of a food that he or she likes will cause the child to become less interested in the food. In general, the more you try to force a food on a child, the less interested they will become. On the other hand, if your child sees you and your spouse enjoying a food on multiple occasions, the child will be more apt to try it, eventually. Keep in mind, a child may need to taste a particular food many times before finally accepting that food.

True or False?

“Catering” to your child by making them a different meal or only making foods the child likes will create a pickier eater.

TRUE- Absolutely! My husband and I used to joke that how much our kids liked a certain meal was inversely proportionate to how long it took me to prepare the meal. Hot dogs take 30 seconds in the microwave and our kids love them! Beef stew which takes about 2 hours to cook (not including prep time) is one of their least favorites.

It’s also more of a challenge for parents to not pressure a child to eat something that was made especially for them. At that point, the parent has a vested interest in getting the child to eat, especially if we make a different meal! As with most things, Murphy’s Law states that by catering to your child and making them something different from what the rest of the family is eating is asking your child to reject that “special” or favorite food too. Trust me, I just found this to be true. I was trying to force my kids to eat their Easter candy because I am sick of looking at it and the Easter grass is reeking havoc on my vacuum, needless to say 1 week post Easter and they have crashed and burned on Easter candy. Now, I can toss the rest without them even noticing or caring!

So, what’s a parent to do? KISS! Keep It Simple, Silly! Decide what you would like your child to eat (a balance of nutrition and “junk” foods) and offer these foods on a consistent, scheduled basis. In general, most children (ages 2-18) need 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day, or 5-6 “mini” meals. Don’t make a sadistic meal such as liver, fried onions, brussel sprouts and lima beans but don’t provide chicken nuggets and french fries every night either! Make sure there is 1 food that your child likes on the table and then let your child decide what and how much he or she would like to eat. That’s it! It’s important to keep in mind that young children enjoy foods that are moister and more flavorful. Think gravy with mashed potatoes, creamed corn, vegetable soup and meatloaf as opposed to roasted plain chicken. Don’t make nutritionally “superior” foods that will likely not appeal to the ankle biter. BALANCE!!! Serve cut up vegetables with dip, this way they might actually eat the carrot sticks or they might just eat the dip and that’s OK too.

It’s not rocket science, but it is not easy to give up our control either. Parents these days want to control every aspect of their child’s life. Gone are the days when a group of kids would get together after school and play a game of Wiffle Ball, remember, the bigger kids would make the rules and pick the teams and we didn’t involve our parents unless there was bloodshed! Now, parents make the rules and supervise the ball game and make sure all the kids are being fair. I know the world has changed, but I think there is something to be said for letting kids figure it out on their own. When it comes to food and life, maybe we should give our kids some more credit and let them figure it out! But I digress…

Back to my original point, above is an excellent article that describes, in-depth, how restricting and overly controlling your child’s food consumption can inadvertently increase the likelihood that your child will become obese.

The “Trust Model” of  feeding has largely been promoted by Ellyn Satter, an expert in child nutrition. She has coined the idea of a division of responsibility in regards to feeding children. The division of responsibility states that parents (or child care providers) are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding and the child is responsible for the how much and whether or not of feeding. This does not mean that you let your child eat whatever and whenever they want, but rather you provide a variety of food at structured meal times and allow your child to eat as much of the food that you have provided that he or she wants.

For more information and parent resources check out Ellyn Satter’s


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Hi! I'm Heather: a body positivity, Health at Every Size dietitian. When I'm not blogging about wellness, I'm spending time with my fabulous family. Sometimes, they wear me out, so then it's time to bake, read, knit, tie myself into a yoga pose, or continue to work my first novel... stay tuned.


  1. …Eating Out When Your Child Has Diabetes ..Eating out can be a treat for lots of families. It may also be more difficult to eat reasonable portion sizes at these restaurants…When choosing a restaurant consider what your child wants to eat and which places offer the most suitable options. You dont have to find a place that serves health food just the mix of proteins and that work with your childs meal plan…Try keeping track of the places that make meal choices easy or that your child enjoys most.

    • Heather

      One idea for eating out with family members who have health concerns, is to have each person ask for an extra clean plate. This way the dish the food comes on can be the serving plate and the clean plate will be the eating plate. Each person can serve themselves what they want “family style”. This way everyone can portion control themselves, and have a little bit of everything and don’t need to share germs. Whatever is left can be boxed up and saved for another meal. Most family friendly restaurants offer lots of choices for side dishes, which is a great improvement from the old school “chicken fingers with french fries”.

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