You don’t have to read the newspaper or watch the news to find out about the epidemic of overweight children in the United States. Just look around in the mall or the schoolyard. You’ll note a shortage of children outside playing, biking or running. What can parents do to make sure their kids are not part of the unhealthy statistics? Here are some answers from Bridget Swinney, author of Healthy Food for Healthy Kids (Meadowbrook, 2003).
Exercise together as a family. This shows your children you think exercise is important enough to make it a family activity. That doesn’t mean necessarily that you should head to the gym together. Fun family activities that you can work up a sweat with include biking, hiking, skiing, kayaking, tennis, basketball and skating. If your family hasn’t done a lot of physical activity before, take exercise on as a family adventure. Research easy hiking trails or simply take a half-hour walk in the neighborhood.
Examine your family’s eating and snacking habits. The meals your family eats may be perfectly balanced. But what do you and your children eat between meals? If foods with concentrated fat and sugar also fill your pantry, it may be time for a snack makeover.
• Avoid buying soft drinks, juice drinks and flavored teas. It’s often what we drink, not eat, that packs on the extra pounds. Encourage your family to drink water, tomato juice, milk or fresh tea instead.
• Keep a lot of fresh fruit in the house at all times — and keep it on the counter where it will be seen and hopefully eaten. Keep raw baby carrots and celery sticks on hand, too.
• If a parent is home when children come home from school, have fresh fruits and vegetables ready to eat — apples sliced, oranges peeled, etc.
• We all may love the crunch of chips, but many healthy alternatives are available. Pretzels, cereal, snack mixes and potato or corn chips that are baked can be great substitutes but with less fat. Remember that salsa actually is a way for your children to eat their vegetables.
Limit screen time. Research shows the time spent watching TV and sitting in front of the computer is directly related to being overweight (as well as to other negative behaviors). In fact, research shows that kids who watch TV with meals have diets that may include fewer fruits and vegetables and more pizzas, snack foods and sodas. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to one or two hours daily.
Assign active chores every day, such as walking the dog, running an errand on their bike, raking leaves, sweeping the porch or stacking firewood.
Encourage active games with children in the neighborhood such as basketball, tag and red light/green light. Children often need direction in their free time. Left to their own devices, they almost always will gravitate toward the TV.
Teach your children about nutrition. Using the standard USDA food pyramid (view it at www.nal.usda.gov. fnic/Fpyr/pyramid.gif) as a guide, even a young child can count the number of foods he or she has eaten from each group. For older kids, the motivation for eating right can be having more energy for a sport, for doing better on tests or for being able to fit into clothes they like. You can teach older children to begin looking with a wary eye at commercials for sugary and fatty foods.
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Get the whole family involved in meal planning and preparation. Kids who help cook are more likely to eat. Preschool children can make choices about what’s for dinner. For example, ask “Should we have carrots or broccoli for dinner?”
School-aged children can help plan a balanced meal from the food pyramid. Have children make a balanced meal out of their favorite entree. For example, how can macaroni and cheese be part of a balanced, healthy meal?
Third graders and older can prepare most of the meal with a little help. An adult always should supervise children in the kitchen.
Eat more green. As kids are bulging in weight, they also are showing early signs of heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Including more vegetarian foods in your family’s diet can decrease saturated fat and add a variety of nutrients to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Some ideas for kid-friendly meatless meals include:
• Bean burritos or tostadas with lowfat cheese. Even nachos made with baked chips can be the main dish.
• Vegetarian lasagna. Instead of meat, use spinach, eggplant or other vegetables, tofu or soy crumbles.
• Veggie burgers. Many frozen vegetarian burgers can be popped in the toaster or microwave. If you need to use a drive-thru, Burger King now has veggie burgers on its menu.
• Spaghetti with tomato sauce and soy crumbles. Soy crumbles can be purchased frozen, and textured vegetable protein (a dehydrated soy product) is available at health-food stores. They’re both great substitutes for ground beef.
—Courtesy of FeatureSource
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