Childhood obesity is a regular topic in the news, and with more than a third of American children above a healthy weight, there’s a real reason for concern.
While many stories talk about school lunch programs and possible laws in the food industry, it can be hard to know what to do when when it’s your child. Then, it’s not about statistics or national efforts — it’s personal.
Get the Facts
The first step is to take an honest look at your kids, even though that’s incredibly hard to do. But denying a weight problem won’t help.
If you’re worried about your kid’s weight, the first step is to talk to their doctor. Some kids develop differently, and it’s possible that yours are still shedding their baby fat. Their doctor can give you a better idea of whether or not it’s a problem.
If their doctor diagnoses your kids as overweight or obese, the next step is to take it in without blaming them or yourself. These days, it can be harder and harder to be healthy when everything has sugar, salt, or chemicals hidden in the ingredients. But it’s not too late to learn to change bad habits and make better ones.
The key is for you to set a goal for your family to get healthy and active, and to stick to it. By helping them make healthy habits now, you can set an example that will last them a lifetime.
Talk About Weight
Next, it is important to really talk through the reasons for the coming changes with your family. Kids usually don’t understand the link between what and how much they eat and their bodies. And if you don’t explain what’s happening, they may think that you taking away their favorite foods is a punishment.
Make sure they understand that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that this is to help you all feel and live better. Don’t put it in terms of weight or looks, instead, talk about feeling good and being healthy and strong.
Kids can be sensitive about their weight, especially if they’ve been teased or bullied about it before. Make sure you always work to build up their self-esteem, and never make them feel guilty for being overweight.
Create a Weight Plan
Now it’s time to create an action plan to make big changes doable.
Limits on screen time, like TV, video games, and computers, can help get them moving. You can also have them earn screen time, like playing outside for an hour could earn them 15 minutes of their favorite video game.
Try turning physical activities into family time. Take a bike ride together through your neighborhood. Teach your children games you played as a kid, like freeze tag, or kickball.
Play to what they’re interested in. If they like watching sports on TV, teach them rules or plays during a pickup game. If they love science, find experiments online that will get them moving, like learning about motion, or outside, like looking at plants and animals. Ask their friends or school about groups or teams your kids might want to join, or convince them to play with their dog after school each afternoon.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating better also needs to be a family effort. Kids’ eating habits are often learned from their parents, so first, take a look at what you eat and what you feed them. Again, don’t blame or stress about the past, just set goals for moving forward.
The biggest change you can make is to bring fruits and veggies into every meal. They should make up half of your plate at every meal, and they make great snacks.
Also, cut back on fast food and pre-made snacks like store-bought chips and cookies. You can’t control how these things were made, which usually means extra calories. Swap these for healthy snacks like string cheese, nuts, grapes, rice cakes, and apples with peanut butter.
Cut out soda in your home. Don’t allow it at the dinner table, and drink low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or water instead. And if your family misses the bubbles, switch to sugar-free flavored soda water.
And the most important thing you can do is to start cooking at home. When you cook a meal, you control what goes into it, how it was made, and how big a serving is. When you eat out, you don’t always know what your family’s getting.
Make It Stick
These changes can seem huge at first, but you don’t have to make them all at once. Start small, like setting a goal of serving veggies with dinner five nights a week.
You can’t change your family’s diet and exercise routine overnight, and you wouldn’t want to. Change can be hard for kids (and adults!), so get the whole family into it:
- Never single out one child who’s struggling with a weight issue. Even thin siblings will feel the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
- Make your kids a part of meal planning, shopping, and cooking. When they help pick out and prepare veggies for the stir-fry or cook ground turkey for tacos, they’re more likely to try new foods.
- A good rule is 90% healthy food, and 10% fun food. Limit the not-so-healthy stuff, but definitely don’t ban it. Diets with strict rules are more likely to backfire, and could cause your kids to develop long-term issues with food.
- Find great advice. With the internet, other parents’ tricks are always on hand. Many have found ways to sneak healthy ingredients into their kids’ favorite foods, like Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana breads, and desserts like these protein-rich Black Bean Brownies. They’ll be healthier without even knowing it!
- If you’re having a tough time getting your kids on board, find outside help. As parents, we all know that some kids are more likely to follow advice when the info is coming from someone else. Find a registered dietitian for kids in your area at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right. website.
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