Let's admit it, we Indians love our food and actively make efforts for the kids to look like they are khaate-peete ghar ka bacchas! While I think that dieting isn't a word that should exist in any child's food dictionary, I do believe that eating patterns that are developed in childhood tend to carry into adulthood; which is why I'm keen that my three daughters develop a healthy relationship with food. I want them to think about their food choices as how they will impact not just their current, but future health as well. Why? Because recent research has shown that almost 33% teenagers in Mumbai schools are obese. And it is a proven fact that medical issues related to obesity say that childhood obesity can have lifelong health effects, even if the weight is lost later. In addition to this, it is a widely known fact that obesity is a major factor contributing to the development and genetically, Indians are anyway predisposed to diabetes. I don't think there can be a more compelling argument for developing good food habits in kids
PS: This article is in no way meant to encourage body hysteria amongst kids and parents. Health is not restricted to shape or size. A thin person can be far more unhealthy than a bigger looking person. I cannot emphasise enough that this article is written in the spirit of promoting the idea of good health for better futures, not a fashionable figure.
Lead by example
First things first, remember that it is unreasonable to expect children to control their eating habits, if we as adults can't. If you want your child not to drink aerated drinks (and they mustn't) then you shouldn't either. Make it an exception-like only at birthday parties, or, if your child attends too many birthday parties, then think of a rarer occurrence. Also, do not allow them to simply open the fridge and help themselves to drinks and high-calories foods. It is better to set some ground rules.
Regulate the snacking-you'll be surprised by how many calories a biscuit has
There is one myth about biscuits, that they are light and don't have too many calories. Depending on the kind your child likes (chances are, they won't be oatmeal ones) there are about 60 to 100 calories in two biscuits, on a conservative estimate. If you take the sandwich ones with cream filling in the center, you are talking 150 calories in one biscuit (one roti, by comparison, is 100 calories). Also, the truth is that once you allow these cookies, your child will eat a couple, at least. So, if he eats 4, for instance, that's 600 calories straight away. And this was just a snack, your child is probably still hungry and there's been no nutritional value added-these are called "empty calories".
It's all in the portions
This is a tricky one, because sometimes it's tough to know when to stop feeding children, especially if they still seem hungry. The first thing to do is to feed them slowly. Kids who eat fast, tend to eat more. Also, follow the food-pyramid principle. For instance, serve them one roti, veggies and dal-you've got your carbs, your greens and your proteins. When they finish their roti, get them to finish the veggies and dal as well, before serving another roti. Don't be too focused on the number of rotis the child has eaten (and this you will have to decide based on the child's age and activity level) but focus, instead, on the nutrition. Then ask them if they are full, don't overfeed just because you think they need it.
No television while eating
While it is probably extremely tempting to put a child in front of the TV and magically have him open his mouth, it's not the best thing for your child. It's no secret that children who eat in front of the TV tend to eat more. Also, meals should be about talking and sharing with the family. It's a good habit to inculcate in the child and will go a long way in keeping him healthy.
Exercise must be part of a daily routine
If you think that your child has a tendency to put on weight, then controlling his diet, unfortunately, will not be enough. He will need to exercise. Instead of sending him to the park, where he may not be able to sweat it out as much as he needs to, enroll him in some sports class. This could be any sport he enjoys, like tennis, or karate etc. The reality is that even if you regulate your child's diet, you cannot do it every second of the day, and exercise is a habit that, if formed early, will hold him in good stead later in life.
There is one important scientific fact that we must know-humans determine their total number of fat cells in childhood. And, while new cells are formed and old ones die, their numbers don't change much after adolescence. This means that once the fat cells are formed in a child's body, they will remain so, making it harder for the child to lose weight (even if the child becomes thin, the number of fat cells will remain relatively unchanged).
Let them listen to their bodies
Children are said to be good at listening to their bodies' signals of hunger and fullness. This means that they stop eating as soon as their bodies tell them they are full. However, parents, in an effort to get them to finish everything on their plate, tend to overfeed them, which is not a good idea, because it forces them to ignore their fullness and eat more. Also, people may use food to reward good behavior or seek comfort when sad. Doctors point out that these are learned habits and they lead to eating even if we are not hungry. These are formed early and stay well into adulthood.
So, be careful how much you serve your child. You are, to a large extent, responsible for your child's healthy lifestyle.