The UK government have come out with recommendations to limit kiddies snacks to two 100 calorie snacks per day. I really hope our Ministry of Health does NOT follow suit!
*WARNING* Rant alert!!!
This recommendation comes from a place of concern for the health of the kiddies in the UK (we have the same concerns here). They are concerned they are eating too much highly processed foods loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats. And while I agree that the amount of highly processed, discretionary foods being eaten is an issue, this is a terrible way to approach changing our kiddies diets.
This is a SUCKY idea.
1. It’s a very reductionist way to look at food.
By that I mean, it looks at food from a nutrient perspective. But we don’t eat nutrients, WE EAT FOOD! We don’t get up in the morning and think “golly, I’m going to feed Miss 9 with 1 120 gram orange and 29 grams of swiss cheese because that is 100 calories and is her allotted snack.” (I have no idea if that is actually 100 calories, but you get the idea.)
What we actually do is look in the fridge and pantry and take either what needs eating first or what we (or the kids) feel like eating and give them that for their snack. That is normal eating and totally acceptable.
2. Counting calories is bad for our health – especially for kids
Even if all the parents took responsibility for counting the calories, kiddies will soon pick up on this and learn that the best way to figure out whether they are allowed to eat that food is by counting calories. Kiddies are smart, they soon pick up on all our tricks. Counting calories ruins our relationship with food. Food is about culture, traditions, celebrations, family and friends, enjoyment, taste, nourishment. Being overly concerned about calories leads to INCREASED weight, higher risk of diseases and poorer diet quality! The exact opposite to what it’s intending!
3. We don’t want to perpetuate the diet culture (the diet industry makes bazillions of dollars from our insecurity on our weight, shape and food)
Counting calories; labeling foods as “bad” and “good”; traditional thinking that fat is “bad” and skinny is “good”; being scared of weight gain; being obsessed about weight, shape and food; matching calories eaten with exercise; weighing yourself and being worried or anxious about the number on the scale; dieting; feeling guilty when you eat a “bad” food…. This is all part of the diet culture and ANY intervention that encourages ANY of these behaviours’ is simply endorsing diet culture. These all increase the risk of eating disorders and disordered eating patterns. I did all of this when I was a teenager and I was MISERABLE. I felt guilty every time I ate something “bad”, I restricted my food intake to lose weight, I binged on junk food, then tried to “make up for it” by not eating at all for the next 36 or so hours, which lead to another binge. I will do ANYTHING to make sure my girls don’t go through that same kind of hell. The diet culture is BAD and is terrible for our mental and physical health. The only people that benefit from diet culture are the ones profiting from it.
4. Kiddies have an innate inner voice that tells them when to eat and when to stop
Counting calories removes the kiddies natural appetite and seeks to over ride it. Allow kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. Give kids structured meal and snack times. Eat with your kids as much as possible. These over arching feeding principals are proven to work to make sure your kiddy has a healthy weight. There is NO evidence that counting calories, dieting or restricting food intake leads to weight loss or a healthier body. In adults OR kids! Anyone with kids knows that some days they are starving and eat us out of house and home and other days they are not that hungry and eat very little. Their wee body’s are great at telling them how much they need depending on their growth, activity levels and energy needs. Do NOT over ride that by giving them an allotted calorie amount. One day 100 calories might be more than they need and another day it might not be enough and leave them starving. Hungry kids are terribly behaved, don’t learn properly and can’t concentrate. Let kids eat to appetite.
So what to do then? Worried about your kiddies weight and counting calories isn’t the answer?
5. And what does 100 calories look like anyway?
I’ve studied nutrition and dietetics for over 5 years and I still have to look up the calorie amounts of most foods. Calories are not an intuitive measure. Most people can’t look at a food and know how many calories it contains. This is simply going to increase people’s reliance on packaged foods that specify 100 calories per serve. The opposite of what we need to be encouraging (less packaged foods, more whole foods)!
As said above:
Eating meals with kiddies and giving them structured meal and snack times, where they sit down and eat what is offered (and as much of it as they want) at times chosen by you. Ie. don’t let them graze!
Keep meal times a pleasant experience so your kids enjoy eating and sharing meals.
Allow your kids to eat as much as they need to and encourage them to listen to their “tummy”.
Try not to label foods as good and bad, it just makes them want the bad foods more and then feel guilty for having them. Food is just Food. I tell my kids that we choose to eat these foods mostly because they are good for our bodies and help us think, learn, play and grow well. We choose to have other foods sometimes, because they are maybe not as nourishing, but are part of a tradition or celebration, taste delicious and make us feel good.
And of course eating healthy food IS important. So choose whole foods as much as possible and reduce your processed foods as much as possible. Eat in a way you enjoy, that suits your culture, food values and budget. Make sure you include those ‘sometimes’ foods as part of your regular diet, enough to keep you and your kids satisfied, so you don’t feel deprived, but not too much that you displace those foods that are really nourishing (like vegetables and fruit!)