According to obesity researchers, the US obesity rate has more than doubled for preschoolers and teenagers – and tripled between 6 and 11 years old – in the past 30 years. Obese children are at increased risk for health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, and often carry these problems into adulthood.
So, how do parents help children and the whole family to eat healthier, both at home and away from home?
“Talk to your pediatrician, family doctor or nutritionist to determine the healthiest weight goals for the whole family,” said nutrition expert Jenifer Bland-Campbell, “and make a plan to solve the problem.”
She offers these tips to help parents help their families eat healthier:
Eat at least one meal together daily, at regular intervals to discourage snacks.
Prepare healthy dishes for the whole family, not just special foods for an overweight child.
Do not use food as a reward, comfort, or punishment.
Watch portions. “Clean your plate” is not always the way to go.
Eat slowly. It takes almost 20 minutes for the brain to register that the body is full.
Encourage water or skim milk or 1% instead of sugary and high-calorie drinks.
Getting kids to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day won’t be easy, but focus on the colors to make them more fun. Visit www.5aday.org for more tips.
Use low-fat or fat-free dressings, mayonnaise, and dairy items at home as if they were total fat versions. Children will follow your tips. Ask the same things next when you eat out.
Take the stairs. When shopping, park your car farther from the store and walk.
Limit television, video games, or computer time.
Replace mayonnaise and cheese on hamburgers or sandwiches with ketchup, mustard or barbecue sauce.
Stick with baked, baked, steamed, or poached items – no fries.
Ask for nutritional information when eating out.
Look beyond the children’s menu, usually limited to fried foods, high in calories, and high in fat. Split a healthy adult ticket between two children.
Ask for a take-out container and put some food before eating.
Ask for bread, drinks, and tortillas to be served with the meal, not before.
“Parents can help children achieve wellness goals by first making healthy changes at home and then teaching children what to do outside the home,” said Bland-Campbell. “Healthy eating doesn’t happen overnight, but children receive tips from their parents and learn behaviors over time.”