A food diary can help children keep up with their daily food intake. This can be for the purpose of losing weight, following a specialized medical diet or simply to eat a healthier diet. Understanding how to collect and evaluate a set of data is an important skill for a child to learn and the boost to her health will add extra incentive for her to attempt this project.
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Setting It Up
Use a blank journal or notebook for the diary. Include a place for the date and each meal and snack consumed. Breakfast, lunch and dinner may be listed first, with snacks below, or each can be listed chronologically. Include at least five spaces to write down foods for each meal category and at least three spaces for each snack category. Create a separate area to record water intake. Include a space for physical activity near the bottom, including the activity, whether it was outdoors or indoors, and how long was spent engaged in the activity.
Have your child write down each food and drink and the amount, in words he finds easy to understand every day. He may need to learn basic measurements, such as tablespoon and 1/2 cup. A meal example would be: turkey sandwich with tomato on whole-grain bread, 1 cup of apple slices and 1 cup of 2 percent milk.
Determine the specifics of the diary from your child’s nutritional goals. If she wants to improve her eating habits, include categories after each food item to mark whether the food contained the meat and beans group, the vegetables group, fruits group, grains, milk products, healthy oils group or junk food. A child who is overweight or diabetic may need to keep a calorie count in addition to her food group designations. Use colored markers to show the colors of the vegetables and fruits eaten, to encourage variety. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that food diaries include a place for writing what type of mood your child was in while eating. This can help prevent eating out of boredom, sadness, anger, stress or loneliness.
At the end of each day, have your child rate his progress for the day. If he ate as many portions of each food group as he wished to, avoided junk food or ate the correct number of calories, he can reward himself with a happy face -- or a reward of your choosing. An older child may wish to rate his success from 0 to 10 to monitor his progress. Count the number of cups of water consumed, with 4 to 8 cups being the goal, depending on his weight and pediatrician's recommendation. Count the minutes of physical activity, with extra credit for outdoor activity. Physical activity goals should be 30 to 60 minutes each day.
A Word of Caution
Some children and teens will want to calorie-count due to an eating disorder. This condition can affect both males and females. If you’re concerned, monitor your child’s caloric intake to ensure it’s reaching a healthy level.