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How Boredom Triggers Eating

Strategies To Help Your Child Cope With Boredom And Avoid Overeating

With school out and hot weather in, it's not unusual for youngsters to gather around the refrigerator or the television rather than engage in active play. Such habits may be relaxing but can wreck a healthy lifestyle, say specialists at Texas Children's Hospital.

"For some kids, boredom triggers eating," says Jennifer Thomas, senior clinical dietitian in the department of gastroenterology and nutrition at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas. "A child can pick up 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a summer, so it's important to recognize the difference between boredom and hunger."

Structured Schedules

Because children may be adjusting to the lack of routine, adding some structure to their daily schedules can help. "For instance, instead of letting kids eat while they watch television, permit eating only in the kitchen with the television turned off," says Thomas. "This strategy can help determine if they are really hungry or just bored."

Plan Healthy Snacks

If hunger initiates a snack attack, nutritious snacks should be available and easy to reach, says Thomas. She recommends two or more servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables as a reasonable daily goal. "Summer is an ideal time to enjoy produce at its peak while it's inexpensive and fresh," Thomas says. "Fresh or frozen fruit [is] better than fruit juice. Fresh or frozen vegetables are preferable because canned vegetables usually contain salt."

For a more filling snack, Thomas suggests blended fruit drinks made with low-fat milk or yogurt and berries. "Yogurt, which is high in calcium, can also be layered with fresh fruit, much like a sundae," she says. "Also, consider adding favorite fruits or vegetables to a bread recipe or dried fruits such as apricots, golden raisins and cranberries to an oatmeal cookie recipe."

In general, kids should avoid snacks with high sugar content, says Thomas. "While these sweets may offer a quick boost, the effect is not long lasting," she says. "More importantly, if a sugary snack takes the place of healthier food, the child is not getting the nutrition he or she needs. High-fat food tends to weigh a child down, while eating foods that are naturally lower in fat will make it easier for kids to feel more energetic and stay on the go."

Make Food Fun

Just like adults, Thomas says children appreciate an appetizing presentation. "Add some fun by serving fruit such as strawberries, pineapple chunks, melon balls, grapes, kiwi and banana slices on skewers with a yogurt dip," she says. "Remember that kids are more likely to eat food when they participate in the preparation, so let them take turns helping in the kitchen."

Drink Lots of Water

Perspiration cools the body, but it also causes a loss of electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration. Sports electrolyte-replacement drinks are advised if kids are playing continuous sports for more than an hour outside. On most occasions, Thomas says water is still the best beverage and is especially inviting when served in a tall pitcher with sliced lemons.

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