Childhood Obesity: The Answers are Simple in Theory

The commonly sited stat that one-in-three U.S. children are overweight is striking. In the last 30 years, children being overweight has doubled, and adolescents being obese has tripled. This should get your attention whether your children are heavy or not. There is a strong likelihood that overweight children will be overweight adults. These numbers represent a huge impact to our future economy and to the future of healthcare costs.

The answers given by the experts seem simple. Less screentime, healthier food choices and more exercise. That’s it.

Less Screentime: Decide your limits and stick with them.

  • Zero to Three recommends no screentime for children two years old and younger, a half-hour a day as a maximum for children two to three years old and an hour a day as a maximum for older children.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screentime for children two years old and younger and two hours a day as a maximum for older children.
  • This screentime includes tablets, phones, computers and TVs.
  • Related to obesity, many of the advertisements during children’s programming is for sugary foods and fast foods.
  • Screentime tends to be a sedentary activity.

Healthier Food Choices: Learn and teach your children about healthy choices and healthy portions.

  • Encourage fruits and vegetables.
  • Encourage children to eat a wide range of healthy foods.
  • Think healthy fats, whole grains, lean meats.
  • Teach your children about foods, explore tastes and textures.
  • Encourage them to shop and prepare foods with you.

More Exercise: Get your family moving more!

  • The Center for Disease Control suggests children and adolescents should have 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • This should include aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening activities.
  • Make it fun.
  • Get moving with them!

Creative Ways to Encourage New Foods

So many parents of young children note their children are becoming more picky about eating by the day. They describe a child who was a pretty good eater at two years old and is now narrowing their choices and becoming more demanding. There are so many ways to encourage children to eat and try new foods without adding pressure. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage children to help with the shopping – Let little ones draw pictures of the foods on your shopping list, and let older ones write the list for you. At the store let them pick which type of apples or grapes to buy, maybe let them pick a cereal or flavors of yogurt. Encourage reading skills by having them keep track of items on the list. Encourage math skills by teaching them to weigh fruits and vegetables, teaching them to compare prices per weight or keep a running tally for the cost of the list.
  • Encourage children to help prepare food – At home, have children wash the vegetables or cut the fruit as they can. Have them butter rolls and serve green beans. Overall, involve them in the food process.
  • Offer new foods when your children are hungry – If they eat really well at breakfast, offer new foods then or offer new foods as a appetizer before dinner.
  • Offer foods in a wide range of colors – Adding colors is easiest done with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try fun, new, child-friendly recipes – There are so many great cookbooks for kids including Family Fun: Cooking with Kids by Cook, Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual by Klutz and Kitchen for Kids by Low. There are also child-friendly cookbooks (meaning meals you make that kids will love) including Cooking Light: The Ultimate Kid Approved Cookbook by Cooking Light or No Whine with Dinner by Weiss. There are also great website including  http://www.foodnetwork.com/cooking-with-kids/package/index.html and http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/with-kids/. This list is just for starters, there are many others in each category.
  • Make smoothies they love – Throw in a vegetable or wheat germ on the side. You might try recipes from 201 Healthy Smoothies and Juices for Kids by Roskelley.
  • Make food “art,” let them play with food then eat – This could be standing up broccoli to make trees, making small snowmen with mashed potatoes, using big cookie cutters to make shape sandwiches or letting them make ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisens on top) and then EATING the fun.
  • Build on foods they already like – If your child loves ketchup or ranch dressing, go really wide on all the foods they might be able to dip in. You might also look for cookbooks that build on a favorite ingredient such as The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook by Zalben or The Cereal Lovers Cookbook by Chattman.
  • Teach them about the food process – Visit the farm, take a tour of a grocery store, teach them about where food comes from and how food is made.
  • Teach them about nutrition – Teach them about the food pyramid, about healthy choices and portions.
  • Offer new foods in a container they can hold – When you can, offer the new foods in a bag or container they can hold.
  • Offer it in other novel ways – Try new foods on a stick, serve small foods with toothpicks for utensils or serve small portions in an ice cube tray (divided into small squares).
  • And when all that fails, I am fine with hiding ingredients – To cook and hide ingredients at home you might read The Sneaky Chef by Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Seinfeld. You might also take them to Robeks and try a wide range of their smoothies, including the ones that have vegetables or start experiementing with your own smoothies at home.
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