People normally find chubby kids adorable but the rising rate of childhood obesity is anything but cute. A study published in The Lancet reports that in 2016, there were 124 million obese children and adolescents versus just 11 million in 1975 worldwide. The numbers continue to soar, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where cheap, unhealthy food is the convenient choice.
The problem with childhood obesity is that it will likely translate into obesity in adulthood and this comes with many health consequences like heart disease and diabetes. So, while it’s tempting to take the easy route and feed kids whatever they want, keep in mind that their future health is on the line. Simply put, healthy kids make healthy adults. It’s up to parents to educate and train kids to make healthy choices.
“But my kid is a picky eater!” some might say. Just like with other rules—like going to bed on time or buckling up in their car seat even when they don’t want to—healthy eating should be something you train them to follow.
Your kids’ nutrition is in your hands. Here are some tips and tricks to help your family commit to healthy eating:
As much as possible, don’t use food as a reward. In UK website Weight Loss Resources, dietician Juleitte Kellow BSc RD writes, “Avoid using food as a reward—it simply becomes more desirable. But that’s not all—other foods become less desirable, too. In other words, telling children they can have some sweets if they eat their veg simply makes the sweets more alluring and the veg less appealing!”
Get kids to cook with you. Find age-appropriate tasks kids can perform as you’re preparing a meal—mixing for little ones, chopping and slicing for bigger kids. They’re more likely to eat something they’ve made themselves. Plus, it’s a great bonding activity for you and the kids.
Set a good example. You can’t expect your kids to be excited about vegetables if you’re less than enthusiastic about eating them yourself. Eat as a family and snack on healthy foods so your kids will be encouraged to eat what you’re eating.
Plan your meals. You know what they say—failing to plan is planning to fail. Lay out your meal plan for the week so you can make sure your family gets a balanced diet and you’re not left scrambling for something convenient and unhealthy for Thursday dinner.
Get them to eat the rainbow. The more colors they have in their diet, the more nutrients they’re getting. (And no, M&Ms don’t count.) Some ideas: For red, tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene so marinara sauce and even organic ketchup are great kid-friendly additions. For orange, go for the orange fruit (much healthier than the juice)—organic is the better choice as oranges are part of the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” (or food that typically has pesticide residue). For yellow, try corn, bananas, and pineapples. For green, vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and green peas are excellent sources of nutrients. (If your kids are iffy about these, mix them into other foods they like, like pasta.) For blue and purple, get creative with eggplants, blueberries, and beets. Grapes make an excellent snack.
Steer clear of junk. Your kids won’t eat what’s not there. You are responsible for the food that comes into your house, so don’t pile your grocery cart with processed snacks that are filled with bad sugar and have zero nutrients.
…but don’t deprive them. Let them be kids! An ice cream cone or the occasional trip to the fast food restaurant will keep them from feeling deprived. Banning treats outright might even make them more appealing to your kids.
Take a look at the food you have in your pantry and in your refrigerator and figure out which ones are merely filling or are really good for your family’s health. Look at each item and determine if there’s a healthier alternative:
Instead of a daily serving of white rice, go for brown rice or introduce your kids to other grains.
Make sandwiches using whole-grain bread with natural, sugar-free peanut butter instead of white bread and chocolate spread.
Get hotdogs and other processed meat out of your freezer and replace with lean meat. Serving chicken? Bake, roast, or grill instead of frying it.
Swap partially hydrogenated oils with healthier options like olive oil and canola oil.
Looking for healthy kids’ snacks for school? Ditch the chips and DIY trail mix using healthy ingredients like nuts, seeds, some dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Pack them some sliced fruit, which you can mix up every day. Or slice up some carrots and include a healthy dip like hummus, salsa, or a homemade dressing.
Aside from making sure that your kids eat healthy, encourage them to move. Spend weekends outdoors, play sports with them, and let them see you exercise. The best thing you can do for your children’s health and nutrition is to foster a healthy environment.