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About the Author

Dr. Linda Mintle is a nationally recognized writer, speaker and licensed clinical social worker who has been in general clinical practice for the past 20 years. She specializes in marriage and family therapy and eating disorders.

Visit Dr. Linda's Web site


Overweight Kids

Dr. Linda Mintle
(Integrity Publishers)

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Overweight Kids: Learning New Habits

New Life Ministries It's in the news: childhood weight problems are now so prevalent that the National Institutes of Health considers it an epidemic. A staggering 30 percent of American youngsters -- twice as many as 20 years ago -- are overweright or on their way to becoming so.

In her new book, Overweight Kids, nationally recognized author and professional therapist, Dr. Linda Mintle, offers an expert voice on the topic of childhood weight problems.

Dr. Linda provides advice for parents wanting to encourage their children to make good food choices, develop a healthy body image, maintain a physically active lifestyle, and overcome emotional pain they may have experienced from hurtful teasing about their weight.

In the following excerpt from her book she provides several tips for helping your children develop good eating habits.

Seven Great Eating Habits for Kids

1. Eat to satisfy hunger and nothing more. Physical hunger is different than eating out of boredom or other emotional needs. Physical hunger builds gradually and begins with a growling or rumbling stomach. Another indicator is the falling energy level most kids experience right before it’s time to eat. Difficulty concentrating and increased irritability are also indicators of true physical hunger.

A significant problem with overweight kids is that many eat when they aren’t hungry. Instead of satisfying hunger, eating fills up time or satisfies other needs. If your child eats for emotional reasons, you’ll have to teach her new coping methods, which we will cover in chapter 8. Ask your child if she is really hungry or whether she feels bored, or if the food just sounds good.

If she doesn’t know what real hunger is, teach her to pay attention to her body and describe what the symptoms of physical hunger are. In addition, pay attention to the time of her last meal or snack. If it has been three to four hours since her last meal, she is probably hungry. Young children get hungry after short intervals because their little tummies can only handle so much food at one time. If she isn’t hungry, encourage her to wait until mealtime to eat, and then distract her with something else to do.

2. Stop eating when full. For those of us taught to clean our plates, this is a tough one. We still feel guilt over all those poor children in third-world countries who are starving because we waste food at the table! We need to let go of this whole method. Forcing kids to eat when they don’t want to leads to big battles, and if waste is the issue, it’s not a big deal to wrap up food and serve it for a snack at a later time. If a person is full, the food is better left on the plate then eaten. Kids know when they feel full unless they have a physical problem related to hunger.

The same habits hold true when eating out. Since restaurant portions are usually large, tell your child the uneaten portion of the food will be wrapped up and taken home for a snack later when he is hungry again. He should feel free to stop eating when he is full.

3. Eat at the table. Early in life, teach your children that eating happens at the table during mealtimes, not while watching television and unconsciously putting food in your mouth. Sure, it’s fine to put up the TV trays and eat during a special movie once in a while, but not very often! Food should be eaten during mealtimes, at the table, whether in the kitchen or dining room. (Notice I didn’t say you should eat in the car, in front of the morning news, or while reading, surfing the Internet, or while attending church!) All of this eating everywhere and anytime is not helping us establish good habits.

We are so pressed for time that it seems like mealtimes are when we catch up on light activities. This is a bad idea. When we spend our dining moments stressing over the bills we are opening, or checking the stock market figures, or watching the news, we don’t pay any attention to what we are eating or how much we are eating, or even whether or not we are full.

4. Schedule mealtimes. There is no substitute for consistency when it comes to instilling good eating habits in our children. Too often the family meal is given little or no priority as other pressing events dictate what the family’s evening will look like. You know what I mean – soccer games, ballet practice, late business meetings, church functions, piano lessons, and whatever other activities are on the calendar.

The breakdown of regular family mealtimes is a sad result of the changing face of the family as we know it. We are too busy to sit down for twenty minutes with the people we are closest to, even when the goal is to enjoy some good food and good company. Yet when there is a regular dinnertime, there tends to be regular snack times and better expectations in place for when and what children are to eat. This step cannot be skipped if we want to improve our family’s overall health when it comes to eating. Meals should be scheduled and everyone should participate. We’ll discuss this more a little later in the book.

When you have meals, have your child come to the table. Even if your child insists he is not hungry, he must join the family. Don’t force him to eat, but have him participate with the family in conversation and be present for the mealtime. Eating together is a special part of eating in general.

5. Choose healthy food. Go through your pantry and get rid of all the junk food and unhealthy snacks. Then stock your pantry with better items such as baked low-fat chips, nuts, yogurt, and fruit. If the healthy foods are the only snacks, your kids will eat them. When I first did this with my kids, they would open the pantry door, start at the options, and say, “Mom, there is nothing to eat.” Then I would point out the food they didn’t want to eat. For the first few weeks, they went without. Eventually, they started snacking on the healthier items, to the point that it was habitual and they didn’t complain about the choices available.

Evaluate how you cook and try to make the food choices healthier. In place of baked products, make fruit and other low-calorie items dessert. At the end of the meal, put out an attractive-looking plate of berries, cut-up bananas, and other scrumptious fruit. If you want to make it a little more special, serve fruit with an angel food cake and low-fat Cool Whip and you’ve got a great dessert for kids. And though your family might tell you they have to have ice cream every night, or that they really want apple pie instead of baked apples, if you are persistent, new and healthier eating habits will form.

When your child eats healthy food, praise her. It’s so important to praise behavior you want to encourage and ignore behavior you want to discourage. Positive attention for appropriate behavior is one of the best parenting strategies you can use when teaching your child new eating habits.

6. Allow kids to eat treats. I’ve been to so many birthday parties at which mothers hover over their kids and say something like, “No, Sally doesn’t want any birthday cake.” Meanwhile, Sally looks longingly at the cake, heaves a big sigh, and sits by herself. By the look on Sally’s face, I’ll probably be seeing her in therapy someday. Don’t do this Let ‘em eat cake!

Not that you should go crazy and stock your pantry with boxes of cake mixes (remember moderation?), but you shouldn’t try and keep your child from enjoying a treat with the rest of the kids. When parents don’t allow a child to indulge, the child puts a premium on that cake, thinks about it to the point of almost obsessing, and wants that cake enough that he will determine then and there to eat it when you aren’t around. Eating cake at a party isn’t going to put on the pounds … but eating cake at home for dessert every night just might.

The same goes for dining out. It’s okay to indulge, but use moderation when you do so. If you can avoid fast-food places, by all means, do. If your child is pleading and begging to go to McDonald’s and it has been a month since you’ve indulged, why not go to McDonald’s, but with the mindset of eating in moderation? No super-sizing, and what about sharing a box of fries between yourself and your child? And how about ordering milk instead of the soda?

7. Food innovation. As kids grow older, their tastes can change. They may find out they like a certain food they passed up before. I remember the day we were all pleasantly surprised when my daughter started eating salads. She wouldn’t eat them before the age of nine. Now salads are a mainstay for her. Offer new and different foods regularly and encourage your child to take a bite and try them. It’s best to introduce a new food with familiar favorites.

Even though food is delicious, it shouldn’t be used as a punishment or reward. Eating vegetables is not a suitable punishment for being disrespectful at the table. And eating an entire box of chocolates is not an acceptable reward for getting straight A’s this semester. When foods are used as a punishment or reward, the child puts a higher value on them, which can actually increase the child’s desire to eat more and more of those particular items.

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Excerpted from the book Overweight Kids by Dr. Linda Mintle. Used by permission of New Life Ministries. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can contact us at 1-800-NEW-LIFE or


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