It’s an alarming statistic. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Poor nutrition and overeating can set our children up for a host of preventable lifestyle diseases. This could be the first generation that does not outlive its parents. Something has got to change.
“It starts at home,” says Dena Roché, a certified health coach and founder of The Travel Diet. “Parents have to walk the walk because kids model the behaviors they’re shown.”
If your child is overweight or already obese, you can help change the course. Here are 10 tips to help you get mealtime back under control.
- Be realistic. Recognize that eating habits won’t necessarily change overnight. If your family is used to foods with high fat content, desserts and fast food, consider eliminating one thing at a time. Make changes slowly to avoid frustration and increase the chances of success!
- Crowd out. Find healthy foods that your child likes to fill them up and “crowd out” room for the bad stuff. For example, serve a pasta with cream sauce for dinner, but substitute grapes for a high-calorie dessert. Or, instead of regular fries with a hamburger, try baked sweet potato fries. Continue swapping out less nutritional foods and soon most of your meals will be filled with healthy choices.
- Portion control. Sometimes it seems like the amount of food served in a restaurant could feed a small country. Use smaller dishes and measure servings to help retrain your child’s brain about proper serving sizes.
- Practice mindful eating. Today, we’re all eating on the run; scarfing down a power bar or a go-gurt in between school and sports. We eat without tasting and without savoring what we’re eating. Consequently, we perceive we’re hungry all the time. Reintroduce family dinnertime. Make eating the only activity by turning off the TV, not eating on the go, not eating in front of a computer or phone screen.
- Create a snack list. Work with your child to develop a list of healthy after-school snacks. The ideal snacks are filled with protein and fiber and are low in sugar.
- Don’t drink calories. Replace soda and sugar-filled juices with water. Add fruit infusions if your child wants something with a bit more flavor.
- Follow the 20-minute rule. If your child is still hungry after eating, wait 20 minutes and see how they feel. This is normally the amount of time it takes to feel full after finishing a meal.
- Dig deeper. Kids who eat compulsively are often using food to combat another issue such as boredom, anxiety or depression. Talk with your child to help identify the source of the problem.
- Don’t clean the plate. Don’t force your child to clean their plate or make them feel guilty for leaving food behind. Let them self-regulate and eat until they’re full. You can always save the leftovers for later.
- No rewards. Do not use food as a reward for good behavior or good grades. This practice can create an unhealthy connection between food and success and can encourage your child to eat when they’re not hungry.
“Parents have to break the cycle of poor food choices,” says Roche. “On the upside, the whole family will start to shed pounds and increase their health.”