A food diary offers a concrete way to keep track of your child’s daily food intake. It can help you identify nutritional gaps in your child’s diet. If your child experiences any symptoms of food sensitivities, such as digestive problems or even behavioural issues, food diaries can help you monitor her reaction to the foods she eats. Food diaries can also help ensure that children who require a special diet for medical reasons -- such as diabetes -- eat a balanced and nutritionally varied diet.
You can keep your diary in a notebook, on your cell phone or online. You simply need a place where you can take notes regarding when, what and how much your child eats at each mealtime or snack time. Also, keep track of any reactions your child experiences after eating a meal -- such as a stomach ache, hives or gas — and his mood and demeanour after eating -- irritable, sleepy, happy, cranky or hyperactive. Include any “extra” foods your child might eat -- such as a biscuit at a friend's house, -- even if they are not part of his regular meals or snacks.
Tracking your child’s dietary intake for as little as a day can help make you make positive changes to her diet, but keeping the journal over an entire week or more can tell you more about your child's reaction to food. If you are keeping the journal to help you identify allergies or food sensitivities, talk to your child’s doctor about how long he wants you to continue the journal. He might also have specific suggestions for the types of data you should include in the journal.
Many adults typically use food diaries to help them keep track of their daily caloric intake for weight-loss purposes, but calorie counting and restrictive diets for children can be detrimental to health, and may require a doctor's supervision. This is because restrictive diets can leave children lacking nutrients they need for proper growth. Avoid using a food diary as a tool to help control your child’s weight unless your doctor approves and oversees the weight-loss effort.
In preteens and teens, keeping a food diary, along with an obsessive interest in food labels and food portions, can be a warning sign for an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Since children in this age group often become increasingly conscious of their weight and body image, some start to focus on weight loss in unhealthy ways. Watch for any changes in your child’s eating patterns and make family dinners a priority for your family at least once or twice a week. Early identification of these disorders is key to successful treatment. If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, take him to the doctor for identification and treatment.
When used appropriately, a food diary can help you ensure your child eats a balanced diet. Children rarely need help controlling calories or eating the right amounts since they generally eat when hungry and stop when they become full. When evaluating your child’s food choices, make sure she eats something from all food groups on a regular basis. Neglecting one food group for too long can lead to nutritional inadequacies.