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The latest, greatest, wonderfully simple way to prevent childhood obesity

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 24, 2014 07:53 AM

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kid eating.jpgIf you want to help your children get to and stay at a healthy weight, here's what you should do:

Let them serve themselves.

As Maanvi Singh wrote in a terrific blog on, the Department of Agriculture and lots of nutritionists have been recommending that kids be allowed to serve themselves for quite a while now. The idea is to put out bowls of food, "family style" and let kids take what they want.

It turns out that when kids do this, they eat less--and they are more likely to try new foods. Makes sense. And yet--we don't do it very often. We are far more likely to serve children ourselves. We do it for good reasons: we want to be sure they eat enough, and we want to be sure they eat the foods we think are best for them. But giving kids some freedom--and control over the amount and types of foods they eat--may be better for them in the long run.

This may be the case with babies, too. In a study from New Zealand, babies who were spoon-fed were more likely to be overweight than babies that were allowed to feed themselves. In "baby-led weaning," instead of giving pureed baby foods with a spoon, babies only eat solids that they can pick up and eat themselves--when they are ready, and only as much as they want. The idea is the same: when you give children control, they get to listen to their own hunger cues--as opposed to listening to you tell them to finish up.

There are definitely some caveats here. It's not okay if the only thing your child serves himself is pasta (as a couple of my children would definitely have done if it were up to them); there need to be some ground rules about taking a variety of foods (including fruits and vegetables). And when letting babies feed themselves, it's really important to be sure that they can't choke on any of the foods you offer, and that they are supervised while they eat. 

But the basic premise is immensely sensible. What's also great is that serving food "family style" by definition encourages family dinners--which we know are good for kids and families. It might even encourage cooking. I love it.

We need more ideas like this one: simple, practical ideas that not only help keep children healthy, but help strengthen families too. 

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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