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Raising Not-Fat Kids: The Top 9 Things Parents Can Do

“Mommy, this is what I want for lunch!” My daughter’s pulled a mac ‘n cheese out of the freezer; we let her have it once a week, on the weekend.

Lately, she’s been wanting to eat the entire package. There are two serving sizes in there.

“OK, great!” I say. I zap it in the microwave. And then, as she watches, I put half of it into a bowl for her to eat and leave half in the tray, to refrigerate and save for another meal.

“Mommmmmmmy, I want alllllllllllll of it,” she says.

“Well, this is two portions,” I tell her. “Let’s heat up some broccoli and we’ll plop it in there.”

My little girl is what you’d call “solid.” She’s always been in the top percentile for height and weight, since she was a baby. I don’t talk with her about staying “slim,” but lately I have been trying to help her understand about eating healthfully—and not too much. I want her to grow up at a good weight.

The statistics are shocking: 17 percent of the kids in this country are obese, a stat that’s tripled in the last three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“As a pediatrician, I often hear parents of overweight kids say that they are not sure about nutrition, and that it is hard to fit good nutrition and exercise into their lives,” says Hansa Bhargava, MD, Pediatric and FIT Medical Editor for WebMD. The site’s partnered with Discovery Education and Sanford Health to create Fit 4 The Classroom, a program to help teachers encourage healthier food choices and more physical activity.

“As a working mom, I understand how crazy life can get,” says Dr. Bhargava, who’s mom to six-year-old twins. “But the most important gift we can give to our kids is good health.” People who are obese are at significantly higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and many other Bad, Bad Conditions.

So what are the best ways to raise kids who have healthy weights? These are the top things you can do, courtesy of Dr. Bhargava. They’re all super-simple—you’re probably already doing some! And a few are even fun.

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  • Start with a filling breakfast… 1 of 9
    Start with a filling breakfast...
    ...and keep it low-sugar! Hearty and healthy picks: scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast and o.j.; a whole-grain pancake or waffles, berries and a glass of milk; or yogurt, whole-grain cereal and fruit slices. For older kids, give them nuts and raisins or yogurt to eat on the bus if they're running out the door; if they skip breakfast, they may stuff themselves at lunch with the wrong foods.

    Check out 10 Healthy Kid Breakfast Recipes

    Photo credit: flickr/sleepyneko
  • Keep veggies and fruit handy 2 of 9
    Keep veggies and fruit handy
    Don't hide those gorgeous baby carrots in the veggie drawer; put them in a clear glass bowl on the top fridge shelf, so kids can see them! You can also plop slices of bell peppers, apples or oranges in little bags and give them to the kids while you're running errands or driving to the soccer game.

    Photo credit: flickr/ilovebutter
  • Get milk 3 of 9
    Get milk
    Sugary drinks are not your child's friend: Fruit punch, for instance, packs 192 calories per 12 ounces. Instead, give kids milk—whole milk until 2 years of age, which can then be gradually tapered to low-fat or skim milk. (It is important not to restrict fat in the first two to three years of life as fat is important to the developing brain). Also offer kids water. Check in with the child-care center or your sitter to make sure they're serving your child healthy drinks and eats, too.

    Photo credit: flickr/striatic
  • Move and groove together 4 of 9
    Move and groove together
    Kids should get about an hour of exercise every day, per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. On Saturday and Sunday, do a family activity: throw hoops, play Frisbee or just go for a walk. Everything counts!

    Photo credit: flickr/Mike Baird
  • Let kids have their (little) treats 5 of 9
    Let kids have their (little) treats
    Kids are kids, which means they want candy, cookies and chips...sometimes all at once! The idea is to set clear limits. Let kids know, for example, they can have just one cookie a day—and then stash them out of sight.

    Photo credit: flickr/Ernst Vikne
  • Cut back on screen time 6 of 9
    Cut back on screen time
    You don't want to encourage couch-potato tendencies! The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting "entertainment media" (including TV and video and computer games) for young kids to one to two hours of "quality" programming a day. Consider limiting the TVs in your home, too; one study by The Henry I. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 43 percent of four-to-six year-olds have TVs in their rooms.

    Photo credit: flickr/Leonid Mamchenkov
  • Give kids lots of playtime 7 of 9
    Give kids lots of playtime
    Overscheduling—soccer! ballet! art!—can stress kids out and make them react in the same ways adults do, by getting grumpy or overeating. On weekends, carve out plenty of time for kids to just hang out and play.

    Photo credit: flickr/Jim Pennucci
  • Have family cook-ins 8 of 9
    Have family cook-ins
    Kids who help with cooking are more likely to enjoy fruits and veggies, research in Public Health Nutrition reveals. The kids surveyed were also more likely to have a handle on making nutritious food choices. So pick a recipe together, shop for ingredients and get cooking!

    Photo credit: flickr/woodleywonderworks
  • Be the action you want to see! 9 of 9
    Be the action you want to see!
    Kids do what their parents do, period. Eat well, move, and don't watch too much TV and your kids will do the same.

    Photo credit: flickr/Ed Yourdon
Photo credit: Flickr/mynameisharsha

Read more from Ellen at Love That Max

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More to read from 1000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood:

• A Mom Charged In The Death Of Her 4-Year-Old With Cerebral Palsy
• Stress-Free Plane Trips: 12 Sanity Tips For Parents
• 9 Ways Kids Wreck Your House: Home Eeek Home

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