Make the Minutes Count

The basic premise here is that every minute a child spends engaged in a rewarding activity that occupies hands and/or mouth is a minute to be treasured and then repeated as often as possible. Another premise is the importance of creating a family “culture” in which food consumption is a separate and discrete activity, carried out only at certain defined times and in the correct place. This is where parents and other caregivers have their chance to shine, by setting a sterling example.

Ample hydration is a worthy goal that serves both physical and mental health, and if all household members have their own water bottles available at any time, that is all to the good. But random food snacks, no. Sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks, no. Any person, young or old, can live a perfectly satisfactory and fulfilling life without constantly shoveling in food, and grownups can demonstrate this daily, just as they demonstrate other cultural standards like no smoking in the home, or no peeing on the ficus plant.

The multipurpose jigsaw puzzle

Chances are, your home has some jigsaw puzzles sitting around in a closet or attic. If your child has never tried out this form of recreation before, now is an excellent time to get started. But any given puzzle, once solved, loses its mystique. So let’s try out some ways of mixing it up, and keep in mind also that there are potential auxiliary benefits.

First, if there is more than one child, hopefully, the older one will pass along these skills to younger siblings, visiting cousins, neighboring playmates, etc. Second, when your kids are old enough for babysitting jobs, they will be equipped with ways to happily occupy their little charges and impress the parents.

Even if you don’t happen to have any jigsaw puzzles on hand, they can be cheaply obtained at a thrift store or yard sale, or from relatives who feel guilty about throwing them away. Now, you may say, “What if pieces are missing?” And we say, “So what?” In fact, before setting the puzzle for a child to solve, you may want to remove a few more pieces, in aid of the first activity.


There sits the completed puzzle, but with holes! Slide a piece of thin cardboard, like from a cereal box, under there, trace the shapes of the missing pieces, color them in to blend with the whole picture, and carefully cut them out. Puzzle restoration is a skill that any child can be proud of! The object, of course, is not to become puzzle piece forgers, or even puzzle repair technicians. What matters is the process, the thinking and figuring out how to do it. And using the busy fingers for some purpose other than conveying snack food to the mouth.

Okay, so you put it together. Then what?

Take it apart, mix the pieces up, turn all the pieces to the gray side, and try assembling it again! If that is too taxing, just suggest that the child sort the pieces into piles by shape — edge pieces, pieces with three protrusions or “loops,” pieces with four sockets, etc. There is no particular point to this exercise, it’s just a thing that can keep a child occupied for a while, especially if the parent participates occasionally, even while spending most of his or her time doing something else.

Or, once the puzzle has been completed, carefully turn the whole thing to gray side up, and paint a picture on that side, basically creating a whole new and original puzzle!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Alan Wat/CC BY 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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