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MOM, I'M HUNGRY!

No one likes to feel hungry -- especially children and teens. If your child is overweight and you want to cut back on calories and increase physical activity, how should you deal with hunger pangs? Nothing tugs at a mother’s heart strings as much as her child wailing, “But Mommy, I’m HUNGRY!” (even if the child just ate dinner an hour ago). Here are some tips for dealing with hunger when you are trying to help your child cut back on calories.

  • Avoid skipped meals and snacks. Stick to the "3 meals, 2 snacks plan." Some children get into the bad habit of skipping breakfast, eating very little for lunch --and then when they get home after school, they literally eat everything in the house because they are so uncontrollably and ravenously hungry. If there is ever justification for a little nagging on Mom’s part -- it would be to do everything possible to encourage your child eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, and not skip meals.
  • Talk about the importance of giving your stomach a rest between meals and snacks. This helps children learn to recognize when their stomach is full and when it is empty. Children should feel hungry before they eat a meal or a snack.
  • If your child complains of not being full and wants more to eat when you know this is not the case, distract them with other activities, such as going outside to play or getting back to an enjoyable project.
  • If your child constantly complains of hunger, try to combine a protein food with a high-fiber food to satisfy hunger at snack or mealtime, since research implies that both protein and fiber are satiating. This could be a serving of whole-wheat crackers with a thin spread of peanut butter or a slice of low-fat cheese.
  • Think about a cup of soup for a snack. The volume of water-rich foods, like soup, can help fill you up without many extra calories. Studies suggest that people tend to eat about the same volume or weight of food each day (rather than the same number of calories). A cup of chicken noodle soup weighs 226 grams but only provides about 60 calories. In contrast, a double hamburger weighs about the same, but has more than 500 calories. So if you choose the soup, the weight and volume will help you feel full and satisfied and for far fewer calories than the burger. Soup is easy to microwave as an after-school snack, so keep single-serve microwavable soups like Campbell’s® Soup at Hand® soups for a quick snack. Other water-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables can also help to satisfy hunger without many extra calories.

 

NAVIGATING ROADBLOCKS

Even the most motivated parents and children will face countless challenges when it comes to sticking to a healthful eating and physical activity plan. Birthday parties, restaurant meals, trips, vacations, summer camp, after-school programs, sports events and play-dates sometimes happen so frequently that it is hard to have a “normal” day. Well-meaning grandparents may sabotage your efforts with extra treats. Even in a shared custody arrangement, ensuring a healthful eating plan for your children is important.

Some of these situations require creative solutions. Others may be solved with a little advance planning. Before a party, your child could have a small, healthful meal or snack, so that he or she won’t overeat at the party. Teach your kids to share a big restaurant meal with another person. Pack healthful snacks for trips, camp and vacations. Ask event organizers to provide lower-calorie snack options for children. Include planning for snacks that your children eat outside the home when you plan meals. Many parents pick up their children after school to take them to sports or other activities. Bring along a healthy snack to eat in the car, so they won't be tempted by the candy in the vending machine.

Christine L. Williams, MD, MPH is professor of Clinical Pediatrics, and director of the Children's Cardiovascular Health Center in the Department of Pediatrics and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.