It’s no secret that childhood obesity is becoming increasingly prevalent and, as you may know,
has serious health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver problems, bone and joint problems, and psychological consequences.
Many experts blame this epidemic on the “Western diet,” which means a diet high in refined carbohydrates (white flour), refined sugars (white sugar), and processed food. As you plan for family meals and teach your kids about healthy choices, there are a few important ways you can help ensure your kids make healthy food decisions and get the nutrition they need.
Eat 5+ fruits and vegetables a day. You’ve heard the rule before. Multiple studies show that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits reduces the risk of dying from a significant number of “Western” diseases. In countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits and vegetables per day, cancer rates are half of what they are in the United States. Ideally, only two of five servings will be fruit, and the rest vegetables. Serve vegetables and fruits with meals and also as snacks. Frozen vegetables and fruits are nearly as good as fresh, since they retain most of the nutrients through the freezing process.
Canned fruits and veggies (without added sauces, salt, or sugar) can also work. When it comes to fruits, however, keep in mind that fruit juices do NOT have the same beneficial effects as intact fruit because juice has concentrated calories similar to soda beverages, and also lacks the fiber and other nutrients that whole fruit provides.
Pay attention to portion sizes. A great resource for determining age-appropriate serving sizes is the
USDA’s food pyramid
, which gives serving sizes for specific foods and beverages based on age, height, weight and activity level.
Although portion control is important, try not to be overly restrictive of your child’s food intake during mealtime. A parent’s responsibility is to provide a well-balanced, nutritious meal. Kids are remarkably good at self-regulating the quantity of food they eat. Allowing kids to eat as much (healthy) food as they choose has been shown to reduce unhealthy snacking between meals. However, if your meal consists of lean meat, vegetables and mashed potatoes, your child should be encouraged to go back for second servings of the meat or vegetables first!
Eat (real) food. It sounds simple, but it can be hard to know what is truly “healthy” for your kids now that every packaged food is making some sort of health claim. This is part of the reason we encourage you to break out of the packages, and eat foods that are just that – FOOD. No chemicals, no preservatives, no dyes, no added hormones, no unpronounceable words, none of the ingredients that are increasingly blamed for our malfunctioning bodies.
Examples of real food are fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese, milk, meat, beans, rice and other grains. Milk does not mean chocolate milk or strawberry milk, but regular white milk. Meat does not mean breaded and fried nuggets, but baked, roasted, or grilled meats. A good rule of thumb used by author Michael Pollan in his book In
Defense of Food
is “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Squishy squeeze yogurts, cheese that comes out of a squirt can – chances are your great-grandmother would be baffled by these foods. Another great rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where a large percentage of items you’ll find are real food.
Taking an active role now can help avoid childhood obesity. Today’s society makes it difficult to change our eating habits, but it can be done. Don’t hesitate to call your
if you have questions about the types of food you and your children should be eating.
For more information on childhood obesity, helping your children make better food choices, or to
find a pediatrician