Establishing healthy eating habits in children at a young age is critical.
If your child is struggling with his or her weight, here are some strategies you can begin to keep the numbers on the scale from creeping up:
- Watch what your children drink. Sugary beverages can pack on the pounds, so replace soda and juice drinks with water or flavored seltzers. Even nutritious juices can add up in the calorie department. Most experts recommend only 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice for children under age 6 and only 8 to 12 ounces for older children. Drinking eight glasses of juice or soda can add 1,000 calories to your child's diet.
- Think natural. Make fruits, vegetables and lean meats the majority of your child's diet; pre-packaged and fast foods should be only an occasional treat. By packing your child's lunch at least a couple of times a week, rather than handing out cafeteria money, you can help monitor meals and snacks when your child is away from home.
- Skip supersize portions. Despite what commercials feed them, kids really need kid-sized servings. Even too much of healthy foods can add up to more calories than they need.
- Healthy eating starts in the grocery store. Avoid tempting, calorie-laden treats, and replace them with nourishing but tasty substitutes. Try popcorn or pretzels instead of chips and chocolate Italian ices rather than full-fat ice cream.
- Don't ban sweets entirely. Kids who are never allowed the occasional treat often binge when away from their parents' watchful eyes. Rather than prohibiting them, save indulgences such as ice-cream sundaes and potato chips for special occasions so your child doesn't feel deprived.
- Don't make your child a member of the "clean-plate club." While showing empathy for starving children in Africa is important, children pay more attention to their own hunger signals. Allow children to stop eating when they're full. If they get hungry later, cut up an apple or unwrap a cheese stick.
- Incorporate exercise and physical activity into your daily routine. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that children accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Make it fun with a game of soccer in the back yard, walks along a local nature trail or a family bicycle-riding expedition.
- Show love and acceptance toward your child. Overweight children need support, approval and encouragement from their parents to feel secure and self-confident. Don't harp on their tight clothes or pot belly. Overweight children are usually painfully aware of their own weight problem. Focus on issues of health and well-being rather than appearance.
- In some cases, concentrate on not gaining -- rather than losing -- weight. Realize that an appropriate goal for many overweight children is to maintain their current weight while growing in height.
- Talk to your pediatrician if you have major concerns. Doctors and other health-care professionals are the best people to determine if your child's weight is healthy. They also can help rule out rare medical problems as the cause of unhealthy weight.