As I flipped through TV channels last night, I landed on the Biggest Loser and was excited but disheartened to see this season with kids. Excited because it is so desperately needed but disheartened all the same because it is so desperately needed -- one in every six kids in the United States is obese. It's the No. 1 reason parents call me for help.
The big question is this: How do I know if my child is obese and how can I help? For 2- to 19-year-olds, it's a BMI at or above the 95th percentile while overweight is classified for this group as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile. This weight is putting kids at risk for once adult-only diseases such as sleep apnea, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
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Before I jump into the changes you can start to make, I will say that it is definitely easier in the younger kids, mainly because the parent/caregiver is the sole source of food supply. As the kids get older and have the ability to buy their own food, it adds a dimension in how to tackle this. With that said, the good news is that there are steps you can initiate immediately in your home to start making a difference!
Offer real food
The easiest change to make is what you offer in your house.
Let's face it, in most cases, it's almost completely up to the parent to offer their young child the right food choices.
Yes, if I offered my kids Doritos and fruit snacks for every snack, they'll happily eat them. So, I don't.
Instead I offer simple snacks like cheese cubes and grapes or celery with peanut butter and raisins (mini chocolate chips for a fun surprise in place of the raisins!). And, don't keep food in the house that you don't want your kids to eat. That's just an argument waiting to happen.
This works inside and outside of the house. Cut pre-made food into halves or thirds before your child even gets to it. Having a pretzel at the mall? Split between three of you for healthy pick-me-up.
At home, help teach your kids healthy portions by pre-portioning their plates and leaving serving dishes on the counter. Start the 20 minute rule -- you need to wait 20 minutes from the start of the meal before having seconds. If second helpings are needed (you definitely want to nourish their bodies for growth!), encourage additional helpings of fruit, veggies and salads.
Offer healthy food when they're most hungry
Lots of us have been programmed to think that dinner time is the time to serve a large hearty meal with lots of veggies.
I actually ate like that and counseled families like that until I had my first child 4˝ years ago. He taught me this lesson fast. My kids don't like to eat dinner.
On occasion, they'll scarf down what I make (since I definitely do not short-order cook), but on most occasions, they push the food around to pacify me until they're excused. What they do like to eat is a BIG afternoon snack after naps. So, if I want them to eat large servings of veggies (since they'll eat fruit all day long), I have to give it to them during snack. When is your child most hungry? Instead of filling them up with crackers and refined carbs, use that hunger to your advantage and get creative with some veggie snacks.
Here are some ideas:
• Mini Pizzas: Toast whole wheat English muffins and spread a thin layer of pizza sauce across each half. Let your child sprinkle cheese and their favorite veggies on top. Place under the broiler till the cheese melts and serve.
• Cheese, Bean and Veggie Quesadilla: This is a great boost of fiber! Heat a nonstick skillet on medium and spray with cooking spray. On a small whole grain tortilla, spread three to four tablespoons of shredded cheese, three tablespoons black beans and assorted veggies (like bell pepper strips) on half the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and place on skillet. Heat the tortilla on each side for one to two minutes or until cheese has melted. Slice and serve with a side of salsa or a slice on avocado.
If you think you need to make some changes for your family, start small. Bad habits don't form overnight and can take time to change. Pick two concrete changes to make every week or two and just keep building from there.
Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or any others, I would love to hear from you! You can send me an email at email@example.com with your thoughts.
•Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Northwest suburbs.