Much attention has been given to childhood obesity in the news recently. While our focus shouldn’t be on how “fat” or “skinny” a child is, we should concentrate on healthy eating habits. By offering and reinforcing healthy foods into our children’s diet and keeping them physically active, we can give them a defense against many issues related to childhood obesity. And the earlier we start, the better. Children who are overweight can have a variety of health-related issues, such as breathing problems, joint pain, even diabetes.
Young children do not need adult-sized portions, and many times, we offer children more food than their bodies really need, creating an overeating factor early in life. A good rule to follow for portion sizes of foods is one tablespoon for each year of age. So, my three year old should have three tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) of each food that is offered at a meal. Make sure to give your child plenty of good-for-you liquids – milk, low-sugar juice, and water. It will help maintain their metabolism and aid in keeping their bodies healthy.
Since your child depends on you to make good, healthy choices for him/her, choose foods that are low in sugars and fats. Meals and snacks should include whole grains, low-fat yogurts and cheeses, lean proteins such as chicken, tuna, beans and eggs, fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables (as long as they don’t pose a choking hazard). Peanut better is a great protein additive to snacks and meals that fills a child up quickly (be sure that your child isn’t allergic though!). And healthy eating doesn’t mean “boring”. Some of our favorite snacks are Ants on a Log (celery with peanut butter and raisins on top), raw veggies and ranch dip, fruit kebabs, quesadillas, and cheese sticks.
And, healthy eating shouldn’t just be for the kids. Set a good example by practicing healthy eating habits yourself. Cut down on sodas. Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your own plate. Watch your portion sizes as well. Children learn by mimicking us, so it is especially important to set the tone with them about the importance of healthy eating habits.
Make sure that healthy eating carries over from meals into snacks. If a child knows they can get a candy bar or ice cream for a snack, there isn’t much incentive to finish that broccoli at lunch. And, DO offer snacks. A good rule to follow is “five”: three meals, two snacks. Children have plenty of energy all day and aren’t as hungry so that they overeat when mealtime rolls around.
All children have a tendency to be picky at least once in their lives (or quite a bit more than that if they live in my house!). Realize that, just because a child turns the proverbial nose up at a food, that doesn’t mean that it should never be served. Try multiple times because, after a while, they will realize that the cheese-covered vegetable medley is actually quite tasty.
Alongside of healthy eating habits, children also need to take part in healthy playing. Make exercise a part of your child’s daily routine. Children can learn that exercise is a lifelong skill that is relaxing, fun and benefial to their bodies at an early age. By engaging in daily physical activity, children will sleep better, feel better, learn to play with others, improve basic motor skills and build strong bodies. And, it can be a family event! Go to a park, ride bikes, dance, play catch, swim, play in the sprinkler, take a walk around the block or through the neighborhood, play “Simon Says” or “Follow the Leader”. The possibilities for being active with your child are endless, and the benefits to YOUR body are countless!
By being diligent with teaching our children to eat healthy and take care of their bodies, we are raising a generation of men and women who will pass those skills along to THEIR children as well. Healthy living shouldn’t be a choice; it is a way of life. A healthier life!