My six-year-old son loves to eat. He’s tall for his age and active enough, so it’s never really been a concern in the family. Recently, a friend noted that in the space of an hour, he had put away a plate of paani-puris, shared his grandmother’s evening snack and had had a full dinner. Since he’s always been on the large side, I am used to buying him clothes that would fit an eight-year-old—but I am getting worried about things such as childhood obesity and diseases brought on by sedentary habits. He now plays cricket and runs up and down stairs and does all the things a six-year-old should do—but how does one control a child’s diet? It seems so cruel to tell a child he can’t have a banana or a chocolate pastry!
There must be many parents with children who are poor eaters reading your question with some degree of envy. Your concern, however, is understandable. Yet I would like to know if your doctor has said your child is obese or overweight. From what you describe, he is a large child, but not necessarily a fat boy. I would say that at six, you should let him eat what he likes. One must only draw the line if there is identifiable and recurring greedy behaviour—eating when not hungry, grabbing food from granny just for fun and, most important, eating too many sweets. He seems to be an active child, so sedentary lifestyle-related diseases are not something you need to fear.
Maybe your friend thought his chain of snacks and then a full dinner was surprising because, yes, lots of children today tend to be picky and fussy. Your son’s appetite may stand out in this context.
Watch it: Help your child avoid junk food.
But it is important for you to consult your doctor about his height-weight ratio. If it is fine, then you can attribute his eating to his metabolism, which may be different from most other children his age.
However, the question of how to tell a child to go easy on food, should that child be tending towards being overweight, is something we need to look at. First, there needs to be a subtle change towards healthier food choices around him. You don’t have to grimly shut out all the fun kiddy foods, but watching the fried and sweet food intake is important. And good meal and snack planning can ensure that healthy as well as tasty food options are available to your children. Most things that come out of packets and bottles will have to be rationed strictly. Of course, don’t nag, as that only makes children (or any obese person) tune out, and possibly eat more just to make a point.
Urban Indians have also started buying tremendous amounts of food, and stocking the house with unending choices, turning it into a mini-supermarket. This encourages children and adults to snack and use food as “time pass” or entertainment. Eating while doing something else—watching TV, playing on the computer, etc.—also leads to children wanting to constantly pop something into their mouths. While it’s not easy to follow this completely, it is a good idea to make the main meals, as well as a big snack, into a sit-down meal, where the children could be chatting, not simply gobbling food while their attention is held by something else.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org