According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has risen dramatically over the last four decades. Today, one out of five children between the ages of six and 19 years is obese. Diet is one of several contributors to this epidemic, and the combination of an unhealthy diet and the excess weight can lead your child to feel less energized. Bad eating habits at an early age can last a lifetime, and the obesity can transcend into adulthood, putting your child at risk for a host of serious health conditions, such as diabetes.
If your pediatrician has informed you that your child is overweight or obese, these six tips to healthier eating can help your son or daughter to shed the extra pounds and feel better.
1. Be a Good Role Model
If you are in the habit of scarfing down fast food for dinner and devouring an entire pint of ice cream while watching your favorite television show, the lesson that your child is going to take away is that this is an acceptable diet.
Children emulate their parents' actions. Playing and being silly with your kids is one thing, but when it comes to food choices, it is time to be the adult. Groans of disgust over a particular vegetable as you did when you were six will not encourage your child to try it for himself or herself with an open mind. Incorporate nutritious whole foods into the family meal plan, and demonstrate a healthy attitude toward food. If you eat healthy foods, your kids will be more likely to follow suit.
2. Don't Be the Food Police
Kids love junk foods. If they were allowed to choose their entire diet, they would happily subsist on sugary drinks, candy, chips and fast foods. These things are colorful, sweet, salty and often come in kid-friendly packaging. You know better that such a diet is not a nutritionally balanced one.
When you start your child on the new path toward healthier eating habits, don't be tempted to go overboard and become the dreaded food police, however. Banning all of the foods that they love will lead to sneaky snacking and binge eating when away from home. Inform your child from the start that you will give them some of the junk foods that they enjoy, but they can expect to be given some healthful foods to eat as well.
3. Offer Variety
There are so many choices when it comes to healthful foods, and you should present your child with the opportunities to try as many of them as possible. Establish a rule that everyone at the table must try the new food on the menu before declaring whether or not it is liked.
As your child starts to learn which foods he or she prefers, incorporate more foods that are similar into your meals. For example, if your daughter likes sautéed spinach, try preparing kale in the same manner. You can also vary how these leafy greens are prepared by offering a spinach salad or homemade kale chips. There is more than one way to serve up a carrot, zucchini or bell pepper, so keep things varied and interesting.
4. Get Them Involved in Their Meals
By getting your child involved in the preparation of their meals, they will feel a sense of having some control over their food. Take your child shopping to buy the ingredients for dinner, and let him or her make the vegetable choice, the protein choice and the whole grain choice. Let your child select which fruits he or she wants to snack on that week.
Teach your child about the nutrients that foods contain. Enlist your child's help in the meal preparation by assigning age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. During the meal, praise your child for making excellent food choices when shopping and for the helping hand in the kitchen to generate the healthy meal. He or she will develop pride and confidence in making healthy choices.
5. Be Ready with Snacks
Some kids have early lunch periods in school, which means ravenous appetites when they get home each afternoon. Fuel them up with healthy snacks or a small afternoon meal of nutritionally balanced foods, including protein, healthy fats and complex carbs, to fuel them up for their after school activities or keep them focused while getting their homework assignments done. Put together some single-serving containers of healthy snacks to have on hand when hunger pangs set in. Some good choices include the following:
- Carrot sticks, celery sticks, sugar snap peas and bell pepper strips
- Whole roasted almonds
- Spiced dry roasted chick peas or wasabi peas
- Blueberries, grapes, cubed mango, cubed pineapple or hulled strawberries
- Peeled hard-boiled eggs
Instead of keeping a filled cookie jar on the kitchen counter, display a filled bowl of fruits, including apples, pears, stone fruits and bananas, that don't require any preparation to enjoy them. Use caution when choosing yogurts for snacking because many of them are high in sugar content.
6. Avoid Distracted Eating
Distracted eating leads to overeating. Turn off the television, and declare the table a phone-free zone. Your child should focus on experiencing the textures and flavors of their food instead of on a television program or the notifications on their mobile devices. Engaging your child in conversation at the table will also help to slow down eating, giving his or her brain a chance to signal satiety when he or she has eaten enough.
Teaching your child to eat healthier diet is not just about preventing obesity and reducing fat. It's about nurturing healthy growth and development through nutrition, preventing disease, boosting energy and lifting self-esteem. To learn more, contact services like Advocare Lerch & Amato Pediatrics.