Today, childhood obesity is threatening to become an epidemic in the United States. More children than ever need to lose weight to be healthy, and because of poor eating habits, adolescent weight loss is a serious problem. Between commercials hawking sugary cereals to calorie-filled fast food happy meals, raising food-smart kids can be a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. Follow these tips to ensure your children grow into healthy, food-smart adults.
Fill your house with healthy food.
Actions speak louder than words, and a house filled with healthy snacks, fruits and vegetables screams healthy food. Remember, your child can only eat what you buy. So if you don’t want your son snacking on chips and candy, don’t buy it!
Don’t restrict food consumption.
Even if your child needs to lose weight, don’t restrict her from eating food. Food restrictions can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors, and even anorexia and bulimia. Instead, encourage your child to make healthy choices and only eat when she is hungry. If your child needs medical weight loss help, talk to your pediatrician.
Don’t label food as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Simply saying ‘chips are bad for you’ or ‘eat your broccoli’ is not a message children can easily understand. These ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels seem arbitrary to children. Instead, connect eating a specific food with a tangible part of your child’s life. For example, tell your daughter that chicken contains protein, which will help her be a stronger soccer player.
Never use food as a reward.
Using food as a reward, or as an emotional comfort when your child is upset, can lead to disordered eating choices and weight struggles later in life. Instead, reward your child with a fun physical activity, like a trip to the park or an afternoon playing soccer.
Praise healthy choices.
Let your child know how proud you are of him when he chooses a healthy food over an unhealthy one. Consistent praise will encourage your child to make positive choices, even when you aren’t around.
Redirect unhealthy choices.
Don’t nag and criticize your child for choosing an unhealthy food. Instead, redirect the choice, such has encouraging your child to choose sweet potatoes rather than French fries.
Make family dinner night every night.
Between work commitments, your son’s soccer practice and your daughter’s dance lessons, finding time for a family dinner can be a struggle. Make a commitment to sit down as a family every night. Turn off the TV, talk about the day, and teach your children that food belongs on the table, not inside a fast food take out bag.
Teach your child about portion size.
Serve meals on individual plates rather than on large, family-style platters. This will help your child learn correct portion size, and prevent over-indulging in seconds.
Make meals in advance.
If you’re too busy to cook dinner every night (and who actually has the time to do that?), grabbing take out or popping in a frozen pizza is tempting. Instead, set aside a few hours every weekend to prepare healthy meals for the coming week. This way when you get home after a long day, all you’ll need to do is toss together a fresh salad and pop a healthy meal in the oven.
Talk to your pediatrician before putting your child on a diet.
If you think your child needs to lose weight, talk to your child’s pediatrician first. With professional guidance, medical weight loss in children is safe and healthy. Unsupervised, arbitrary dieting, however, can lead to long-term weight problems or disordered eating for your child. So talk to your doctor first.