There are an alarming number of overweight children in the U.S. today. In fact, most studies show that about 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, while the number of obese children as nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Worst of all, it can be very difficult for children to shed their bad eating habits and extra weight as they get older, resulting in more overweight and obese adults in the long run. As a parent, it's important to set good examples as far as ways to eat healthier and selecting nutritious foods. Below are some helpful tips for parents who want to get their children on the right track and prevent childhood obesity.
Choose Healthy Foods
This is the most obvious way for parents to help their children reach a healthy weight, but in some cases, it can be the most difficult. It's important to include all family members when focusing on healthy food choices so that every child sees the importance of this lifestyle. It's also helpful to get involved by asking your child to try new things or by taking steps to make their favorite dishes healthier. Here are a few of the best food choices for developing healthy eating habits in children:
- Fruits and vegetables: Utilizing fruits and veggies as snack items can be a great way to get your children eating healthier. Make a point to keep your fridge stocked with things like broccoli, spinach, carrots, apples and oranges.
- Whole grains: Look for breads, pastas and cereals made with whole grains. In many cases, you can also find products in this category that have also been fortified with calcium and fiber.
- Lean proteins: Choose lean meats that are healthier for your children and will also help keep them full. Chicken breasts, turkey breasts, fish and seafood are all excellent selections in this category. Additionally, you can add egg whites, beans or tofu to meals for an extra protein boost.
- Water and milk: It's best to stick to water and skim or non-fat milk when looking for beverage choices. Fruit juices, sodas and most other drinks contain tons of sugar and calories. Even worse, these liquid calories are digested more quickly, so kids can drink a ton of soda or juice without feeling full at all.
- Low-Fat dairy: Once a child is about two years old, they no longer need whole-milk dairy products. Instead, look for fat-free and low-fat dairy products like yogurt, sliced cheese and string cheese. These make for great healthy snack options.
Develop Good Eating Habits
While choosing healthy foods is the best step to prevent childhood obesity, it's also important to set up boundaries and routines that encourage healthy eating. Getting your kids involved is a great way to show them the importance of these habits. Here are a few ways you can developing healthy eating habits in your children:
- Opt for healthy snacks: Don't buy a ton of calorie-rich and high-sugar snacks for your home, even if they are more convenient. Instead, chop up fresh veggies and make them available to your kids at all times. Make sugary snacks a special treat that kids can look forward to but don't always have access to.
- Involve your kids in the cooking: Make dinner time a family affair by getting your kids involved in the cooking. Whether it's setting the table, chopping up vegetables or tossing a salad, it's important to show children that cooking is not only a part of a normal routine, but that it's also fun.
- Never skip breakfast: There are numerous health benefits for eating breakfast, so make sure your child isn't skipping out on the most important meal of the day. Just make sure to choose healthy options, like oatmeal with fruit or a whole grain cereal.
Children also need to stay active in order to avoid becoming overweight or obese. As a parent, it's especially helpful if you set a good example by being active yourself. Get your kids active for a minimum of one hour a day. Place restrictions on when they are allowed to watch TV or play video games in order to get them motivated to exercise outside. Here are some great ways to get active with your kids on a regular basis:
- Go for a bike ride.
- Fly kites in a park.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood.
- Play hide-and-seek.
- Jump rope or play hop-scotch.
- Create a scavenger hunt in your house or yard.
- Sign them up for after-school sports.
Consult your physician before making any major changes in your child's diet. Also, keep in mind that a doctor should be consulted before determining that a child is overweight. In some cases, a certain disease or condition could be the cause of weight gain rather than food choices. It's important to explore all of these options before deciding on the best way to help your child reach a healthy weight.