Food journaling involves writing down everything you (or your child) eat and drink over a certain period of time. I often ask parents and children to do this and they are often not thrilled about the “assignment”. The detailed record keeping of foods and beverages consumed may provide a lot of useful information and can be a great tool to direct the nutrition plan of care.
Below are five situations when food journaling may be helpful:
- For weight management: Writing down everything you eat and drink during weight loss cases provides two benefits: First, you are accountable and aware of everything you are eating and drinking in a new way. You are seeing it listed on paper. Second, you don’t forget about the foods you consumed when asked about it during the visit a few days later.
- For picky eaters: Again, recording everything a child eats throughout the day serves a few purposes. It helps me to identify the “gaps”- what nutrients are falling short and which nutrients are being met. It may also help you as a parent to reflect on how many things your child is actually consuming, especially if you review it over the course of a week. Finally, seeing the pattern and timing of what your child eats is very important. Adjusting or creating a structure around meals and snacks is very beneficial for picky eaters.
- For suspected food allergies or sensitivities: If a child is having physical symptoms that I suspect are correlating with food, food journaling is one tool that can decipher whether the symptoms are food-related or not. In these cases, in addition to the foods and beverages consumed, it is also helpful to write down the times of a day. Through the course of the day, it can be difficult to remember every detail of what your child consumed. For example, you notice a rash on your child in the bath tub before bed and are trying to remember if it was the vanilla granola or oatmeal she had for breakfast? Or was it eggs today? Wait, was that yesterday? Did I send lunch to school or did she get hot lunch? Did she trade and eat something else at school? The goal of the food log is to provide clearer information.
- For underweight kids: Similar to picky eaters, it is beneficial for a parent to keep a food log for the underweight child once in a while. The parent may be able to focus on whether the child is eating well and then troubleshoot with me on how to maximize calories and protein; however, I do not advise children that may be at risk for having an eating disorder to record everything they are eating, nor should parents of these kids keep a food log for them. The reason is because this can easily become a tool to control and restrict the diet further.
- For general healthy eating goals: Any of us can benefit from doing food journaling every so often. If you find an area of your health that you would like to improve, start with a food journal. Examine what exactly you eat over the course of a few days. Establish where there are gaps, strengths and areas for improvement. Do you need more variety? Are you not actually eating as many fruits and vegetables as you thought? Do you eat more in the evening than in the morning? Is your calcium intake low?
If you would like a registered dietitian to do a food journaling exercise for your child, contact NSPT at 877-486-4140. One of our nutrition professionals can meet with you to create a food log template, guide you through the process and then analyze the nutrition for you.