Eating Right—No excuses!
By Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP
It’s no surprise that America’s kids are super-sized. I see it everyday in my office—children living on fast food nutrition and couch potato fitness. And these overweight children are not only suffering from adult diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease now, but they also have much higher rates of depression, school failure and lower self-esteem.
So what can parents do to help? Start NOW! Encourage healthy habits in your youngsters. This means decreasing fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar in your family’s food and making exercise a routine part of your family’s day.
Sure it sounds simple, but a healthy diet takes hard work, motivation and perseverance. But it’s worth it for your child’s health and happiness. It’s time to stop making excuses and start making changes…
1. He won’t drink water.
Tough! He’d better get used to it. Many kids and teens drink more calories than they eat each day! The culprits: soda, juice, power-fruit smoothies and ice-blended mochas—it’s all sugar that your kids don’t need. And they definitely don’t need caffeine. One of the best things you can do for your infants and toddlers is get them used to drinking water at a young age. There’s a reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends juice for infants. Besides the fact that it’s pure sugar and causes cavities, even watered down juice sends a message that beverages should taste sweet. It’s also important to set a good example by drinking water yourself. How can you expect your kids to drink water if you drink soda in front of them?
2. I offer him salad, but he says “Yuck!”
Of course your toddler doesn’t like salad—it’s new and green. You have to introduce something new to a child over a dozen times before he’ll accept it. But the more fruits and veggies you expose your children to when they are young, the healthier food choices they will make when they get older. So keep trying. Offer them a few healthy options and let them choose. Don’t wimp out and give your child junk food just because he doesn’t like what you made for dinner. It’s easy to give in when he screams and pelts you with broccoli, but it’s well worth the fight to develop healthy diet habits at a young age. If you’re going to offer him a back up, it needs to be another healthy option.
3. I leave fruit or veggies on the table, but after school they go straight to the cupboard for chips, cookies and candy.
How can you expect your children to make healthy choices when they know that the junk food is hiding behind the cupboard doors? Take will power out of the equation and get the chips, cookies and candy out of the house. If there are only healthy snack items at home, your kids won’t have a choice but to snack on what’s good for them. With time, they’ll get used to carrot sticks with ranch dressing or apples with peanut butter as fun, healthy after school snacks. It’s recommended that everyone gets 5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day. And turn off the TV. Studies show that the more TV your child watches the less fruit and veggies she’ll consume, mainly due to junk food advertisements directly targeted at kids (not to mention TV watchers exercise less).
4. She takes seconds and thirds.
Thanks to the Big Gulps and Big Macs, our children have grown accustomed to super-sized portions of everything. An age appropriate portion size is about what fits in the palm of your child’s hand. If your children are reaching for extras, don’t leave it out for them to serve themselves. And never let your children snack out of a bag or large container. They’ll consume multiple portions before they realize they are full. Instead, give everyone an appropriate size portion and put the rest away. Only allow seconds of the fruits and veggies. Don’t teach your kids that they must clean their plate. Help them learn when they are full and should stop eating.
Healthy eating combined with daily exercise and less than 2 hours a day of TV, video game and computer time will decrease your child’s risk of being overweight and help them lead a healthier, happier life. Don’t forget that as a parent it’s up to you to role model healthy habits for your family. I rarely see a child who has a healthier diet than his parents. The sooner your start, the sooner you’ll see a difference. It’s a life long commitment to yourself and your family.