Any parent will tell you getting your child to eat healthy can be a struggle. But with 17 percent of children obese and another 16 percent overweight, it’s important to take whatever steps you can. So what can you do to help your kids (and maybe even yourself) maintain a healthy weight? Dr. Bejal Patel with Renown Pediatrics gives us some pointers.
The percentage of children with obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled since the 1970s, with about one in five children ages 6-19 significantly overweight for his or her age and height, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We asked Bejal Patel MD, Renown Pediatrics, what parents and caregivers can do to foster healthy habits to last a lifetime.
What does a healthy plate look like for kids and teens?
Just like adults, their plate should be filled with foods rich in nutrients and lower in calories, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy products and lean protein.
Things to avoid include processed foods, fatty meats, fried foods, baked goods, sweets, cheeses and oil-based sauces. These types of foods are high in calories and fat and low on nutrients that help your little one grow and develop. And when you’re preparing your child’s meal, it’s good to keep in mind that their total fat intake for the day should be no more than 30 percent of their calories.
I know snacks can be a struggle, especially on a busy schedule. What are some healthy options?
When both parents and kids have busy schedules, it’s easy to swing by the gas station on the way to practice to pick up a candy bar or bag of chips, but snacks can add up quickly in terms of fat, calories and sugar.
If your child has a sweet tooth and always reaches for candy, have them try fresh or dried fruit instead. And if your child prefers salty snacks like chips, have them try some unsalted trail mix with nuts and dried fruit or even low-sodium beef or turkey jerky, which are good sources of protein.
When it comes to healthy eating, a little prep goes a long way. Take the pressure off by keeping a few non-perishable, healthy options in the car and ready to grab when there’s not enough time to go to the store or grab something from home.
What about pickier eaters? What can you do to ease them into healthier foods?
Start your picky eater off slow, especially if they’re younger. First, try getting them involved in the decision-making process. Give your kids a day where they decide what your family eats for dinner. Set some rules for what they can choose, giving some options for protein, vegetables and fruit. Then let them decide from there. Take them to the grocery store and have them pick out the ingredients. This helps them see the variety of fruits and veggies to choose from and gets them excited about the healthy meal. As they get older, have them help prepare meals, like washing vegetables and stirring whatever’s on the stove.
You can also work to transition from one of their favorite foods to a healthier option. For example, maybe your little one loves pasta with cream sauce. Make the switch from refined pasta to whole-grain pasta with cream sauce. Next, try whole-grain pasta with cream sauce and tomato sauce mixed together to eventually reach the healthier meal of whole-grain pasta with chunky tomato sauce. And remember, the more times your child is exposed to a certain food, the more likely they’ll like it.
How important is exercise for weight control, and how much should kids be getting?
Exercise is important because it reduces the risk of numerous diseases and helps kids and adults maintain a healthy weight. And since physical activity typically declines during the teenage years, childhood is an essential time to develop exercise habits that will last a lifetime.
Kids should get at least one hour of exercise every day. If you work to limit their screen time and get them moving every day, it will help keep them healthy long term.
And it helps to be a good role model for your kids. Join them and provide support when exercising. It’s a win-win: You get family time and you’re doing something that benefits everyone.
For more tips on raising healthy kids, visit Children’s Health in BestMedicine.