Raising healthy children in today’s supersized and super busy world can be quite the challenge. From huge restaurant portions to disappearing gym classes, packed schedules to video games and social media, quick and easy has become the norm for many families. But recent studies report that an alarming 5% of U.S. children and teens are severely obese, putting them at risk for serious health problems like Type 2 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Fortunately, there are many things parents can do to prevent their children from facing these health problems. Stanley E. Grogg, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from Tulsa, Okla. has five easy tips for healthy parenting.
“How you discuss a child’s eating habits can make a huge difference in helping them make the right decisions,” says Dr. Grogg. When talking about nutrition, explain that healthy foods make their mind and body strong. “Kids tend to respond to that competitive edge. So whenever the opportunity arises, talk to them about the choices they can make to choose healthy foods; during grocery shopping, making dinner and at restaurants,” he says. And when you’re shopping for food, let them choose the healthy foods they like for meals. “The key is to give children some ownership over healthy meal decisions, which will make them more likely to make those same decisions in the future,” says Dr. Grogg.
Tip #2: Stay on Track with Healthy Snacks
It’s not just about healthy meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. “What parents have available for snacking on in between meals is just as important,” says Dr. Grogg. Parents should try to focus snacks on maximum nutrition from fruits, low-sugar cereals, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, grains, and lean, unprocessed meats. Dr. Grogg recommends keeping plastic containers of cut-up fruit and veggies on a low shelf in the fridge so kids can easily see them. Other healthy snacks under 100 calories include:
Apple wedges with whole-grain crackers
1 tablespoon almond butter spread on celery
Low-fat string cheese
Frozen bananas, cherries or grapes to substitute sugary desserts
“Treats are fine in moderation, but limiting high-fat, high-sugar, or salty snacks is best,” Dr. Grogg adds.
Tip #3: Get the Whole Family Moving
“Children and teens need 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week and every day if possible,” says Dr. Grogg. “Physical activity strengthens bones, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases confidence and self-esteem.”
To integrate more movement into your family routine, Dr. Grogg recommends scheduling family physical activity time on a regular basis, like hikes, bike rides and active games. Grab some pedometers and see who can reach 10,000 steps first by the end of the day or plan a day for everyone in the house to do yard work together. If you set exercise goals for the family, Dr. Grogg recommends that you keep them modest at first so children don’t see exercise as punishment.
Tip #4: Rethink that Drink
“Kids who drink soda, energy and fruit drinks take in more empty calories than those who don’t, as well as sodium, tooth-decaying sugar and other additives,” says Dr. Grogg. He advises limiting sugary drinks to significantly reduce the number of calories consumed. Even 100% fruit juices contain a lot of calories.
Tip #5: Limit the Tech Time
“All that inactive time spent texting and playing video games is a huge risk factor for obesity,” says Dr. Grogg. Encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family, pets, friends, or on their own that involve more physical activity and less screen time. You’ll also help them avoid mindless snacking. He advises no more than one or two hours per day of screen time, which includes the internet and video games.
Empower Your Kids
According to Dr. Grogg, the best way to fight childhood obesity and weight problems is to get the whole family on board. Making better food choices and being more active will benefit everyone. “With thoughtful planning, support, encouragement, and positive role modeling, parents can play the most significant role in ensuring their children’s health,” Dr. Grogg concludes.