(FeatureSource) - There is an epidemic of overweight kids - and you don't have
to read the newspaper or watch the news to find that out. Just take a look at kids
at the mall or in the schoolyard. You can also see a shortage of kids outside
playing, biking or running. What can parents do to make sure their kids are not
part of the statistics? Here are some answers from Bridget Swinney, author of
"Healthy Food for Healthy Kids" (Meadowbrook Press).
Exercise together as a family. This shows your kids that you think exercise is
important enough to make it a family activity. That doesn't mean you should
necessarily head to the gym together! Fun family activities that you can also
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 it on
as a family adventure. Research easy hiking trails, or simply take a half-hour
walk in the neighborhood.
Take a look at your family's eating and snacking habits. The meals your family
eats may be perfectly balanced. But what do your kids eat between meals? If
foods with concentrated fat and sugar also fill your pantry, it may be time for
-Avoid buying soft drinks, juice drinks and flavored teas. It's often what we drink,
not eat, that pack on the calories extra pounds. Encourage your family to drink
water, tomato juice, milk or fresh tea (with a teaspoon of sugar if necessary)
instead. Even 100% fruit juice should be limited since it has roughly the same
number of calories as a soda.
-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. Ditto for raw baby carrots and celery.
If a parent is home when kids come home from school, have fresh fruits and
vegetables ready to eat - apples sliced, oranges peeled, etc.
-Kids love the crunch of chips, but there are many healthy alternatives. Pretzels,
cereal, snack mixes, and baked potato or corn chips can all be a great substitute,
but without all the fat. Remember that salsa is actually a way for your kids to eat
Limit your kids' "screen time". Research shows that the time spent watching TV
and on the computer is directly related to being overweight (as well as to other
negative behaviors). In fact, 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 a day.
Give your kids "active" chores every day, such as walking the
dog, running an errand on their bike, raking leaves, sweeping the porch, etc.
Encourage active games with children in the neighborhood such as basketball,
tag, red light/green light. Children often need direction in their free time. Left to
their own devices, they will almost always gravitate toward the TV.
Motivate your kids to eat healthy by teaching them about nutrition. Using the
food pyramid as a guide, even a young child can count the number of foods he
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 in
outgrown clothes. You can teach older children to begin looking at commercials
for sugary foods on Saturday morning cartoons with a wary eye.
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 looking at the food
pyramid. Have children make a balanced meal out of their favorite entrée. For
example, how can macaroni and cheese be part of a balanced, healthy meal?
Third graders and up can prepare most of the meal with a little help. An adult
should always supervise children in the kitchen.
Eat more green. As kids are bulging in weight, they are also 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 also
include a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals that can help prevent cancer
and heart disease. Some ideas for meatless meals that are kid friendly include: