Tracking Eating Habits: My Food Diary
As children undergo a weight loss program, active participation can help them stay motivated and focused. Because many kids aren’t directly involved in meal planning and preparation, a food diary can help establish a relationship with diet and food choices. As children learn to read labels and think about food, they learn to make better choices at mealtime.
Begin by downloading a free daily food diary or printable food diary template. (There is one available at the mypyramid.gov website.) Encourage younger children to customize it with markers or stickers.
How it Works
Ask your child to write down detailed information on what he eats each day. Kids don’t need to keep an exact record of calories, but they should try to take note of ingredients by reading food labels. Have your child log the snacks, treats, meals, and beverages consumed throughout the day. When accurate labels are available, ask your child to write down the number of calories and grams of protein in each food item.
If this task seems daunting or your child doesn’t appear motivated, support the healthy behavior by helping with entries. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but you should encourage thorough reports.
Share the daily food diary template with other adults and siblings in the family. Keep your own food diary. This helps model good behavior and gives you insight into family-wide food trends.
Analyzing Food Notation
After a few days have gone by, read through diary entries to see if members of your family are getting enough fruits, vegetables, protein, vitamins, and minerals. See how many food groups are represented each day. Take a look at where bad foods might have snuck in. What happened? What did you do right? How could you or your child have done better? Have him record his thoughts.
By recording what your kids eat and drink in a food diary, you can make a rough estimate about calories- but don’t obsess about it. It is more important that the child eliminate the sweets, starchy carbs, sodas and other “empty calories” than count. While your child’s notes probably don’t contain accurate caloric intake records, you should be able to estimate the best you can based on food and portion sizes. By increasing protein and increasing their satiety, their calories will immediately decrease without the need for tracking. That said, it is important for your child to understand “the value” of food. She should be able to answer the question,”How will I feel after I eat that?” It may look and taste delicious, but will it make me sleepy, gassy, grumpy, wired, bloated or logy later?
After a week has gone by, you should start noticing patterns in your child’s eating. Here are some unhealthy eating habits you may notice:
- Huge meals.
- Non-stop snacking
- Moderately-sized meals but lots of unhealthy snacks.
- Lots of high-fat takeout food.
- Large, high-fat restaurant meals.
- Chaotic meal times—few family meals, meals eaten in the car or in front of the television.
- Skipping breakfast and overeating at night
- Constantly going back for “comfort foods” such as carbs and chocolate.
Whatever you notice, don’t get discouraged. Identifying bad habits is the first step toward developing better habits as a family.