It’s hardly news that millions of American kids are at an unhealthy weight. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and more than one-third of children are overweight or obese.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel. “When you establish a base of healthy habits at home, you’re setting a critical tone for your family.” says Sally Kuzemchak, a registered dietitian and the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. “No matter what your children may be exposed to outside of your family, they’ll still circle back to what’s familiar to them.”
Start with this five-step plan.
Be good role models.
“Your kids watch everything you do, so even from a very young age, it’s crucial to model good habits.” Kuzemchak says. “If you want everyone eating veggies every night, then the whole family needs to be dining on them.” Keep plenty of fruit around and reach for it before sweet or salty snacks. Shelve sugary drinks like juice or soda. And eat dinner together. “Kids who have family meals tend to eat healthier diets and to have higher self-esteem,” adds registered dietitian Melinda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Read before you buy.
Being aware of artificial ingredients and added sugar is crucial to making healthy choices, so read labels carefully! “The words on the front of the package can be deceiving,” says Jenny Craft, a registered dietician at Beaufort Memorial. “Be sure to check out the nutrition facts and the ingredient list on the back. Try to choose foods with less than 5 ingredients and contain whole foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts or olive oil. Comparing labels at the store may make for a longer shopping trip but will lead to healthier lives for you and your family.”
Turn snacks into healthy eats.
Too often, snack time becomes an excuse to bring out the chips or cookies. “Think of ‘food’ rather than ‘treat’ when it comes to serving snacks,” Johnson says. “A good rule of thumb is to aim for two food groups, such as a fruit and a dairy or a bread and a protein!” It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try serving an apple with string cheese, cereal with milk or peanut butter on toast.
Let them eat junk (occasionally).
There’s nothing more tempting than the treat you can never have. So don’t band goodies altogether. “Trying to get too controlling can backfire, leading to kids sneaking what they consider forbidden foods once they get a chance,” Johnson says. Acknowledge that there is a time and a place for the sweet or salty stuff, but set limits so they know it’s the exception, not the norm.
Don’t be fooled.
Just because the label says it’s healthy doesn’t mean it is. Click here to learn how to choose foods that have the nutrients you need to keep your body going strong.