Obesity is a major problem in the western world especially. There are more children overweight and verging on obesity, setting them up for health problems in the future. Too many children are losing their teeth or suffering from ailments linked to poor diets.
As parents, it’s up to use to look after our children. It’s up to use to help them learn a healthy diet. We need to encourage them to fight against obesity, rather than becoming yet another statistic.
Helping to fight against obesity happens from an early age. You just need to know the steps to take to help encourage healthy eating, portion control, and everything in moderation. Here’s an all-in-one guide to help your children fight obesity from an early age.
Stop Using Food as a Reward or Punishment
Food is commonly used as a punishment or a reward. We withhold dessert or snacks because of bad behavior or celebrate and reward good behavior with a candy bar or large chocolate cake.
The truth is there are other ways to punish and reward. Using food sets up a system of emotional eating. Children get into the habit of viewing those “naughty” foods as treats. If you’ve withheld certain foods because of bad behavior, the children are more likely to gorge on them later in life when you’re not around to stop them.
Find other ways to reward and punish your children. Time outs can make excellent punishment. You can also opt for removing toys or free time by adding in more chores to complete.
Money, books, toys can make excellent rewards. Children get something physical to do to help use up their time. If they get money, they have control over how they spend it.
Won’t this be on food? Well, this is where the next tip comes in handy.
Encourage Other Things Than Food
Children will want to spend money on items that interest them the most. If they view food as a treat or reward, they will want to spend the money on that. When food is viewed to make you happy, they will choose to spend their money on more.
It’s up to you to encourage the spending of money in other ways. Encourage them to take up a hobby and spend money on that hobby. Consider suggesting hobbies or toys/books that your children will enjoy.
The option of hobbies won’t just help to avoid spending money on more food. They can also socialize more, get out of the house, and prevent being so sedentary.
This will take some time to get used to. Children will need a lot of encouragement at first to get out of old habits. You may find that you need some practice to get out of the old habits you’re in.
Stop the Clearing of the Plate Rule
Think about the portion sizes of the food you eat. Plate sizes have increased considerably over the last 50 years or so. What were once 9-inches in diameter are now 12+ inches. It’s not that surprising that people are eating more without even realizing.
The bigger plate sizes affect the way we think about the portion sizes. A very normal and healthy portion size on a 9-inch plate looks tiny when it’s placed on a 12-inch plate. We then put more food on the plate believing that we weren’t going to eat enough. It’s ridiculous when you think about it like this, but it’s just the way perception affects our decisions and views.
If our portion sizes have increased, is it that surprising that the portion sizes for our children have gone up? We may not even consider the fact that our children don’t need—and physically can’t eat—the same amount as us.
We have this rule that the food must be finished before dessert or before leaving the table. There’s this view that children must be picky if they’ve said they’re not hungry.
Rather than telling children to clear their plate, make it clear that there are no other options to eat afterward. Make dessert part of the meal. Whether they finish their dinner or not, they will get dessert, and then they can leave the table. Dessert is no longer viewed as this reward for eating all their food—potentially overeating because of the larger portion sizes.
If they’re still hungry afterward, you’ll need to decide whether you are going to allow a healthy snack or make them wait until the next meal time. This could depend on the time of day that they’re hungry again. If it’s an hour before their next meal, then they can wait. If they’re going to bed hungry, you may want to consider a glass of milk or a piece of fruit to help them sleep.
Soon, children will learn that the food on their plate is the food they need to eat. But they don’t feel the pressure to eat it all and feel overfull. They have a little more control over the amount that they eat, and you do not encourage eating too many calories throughout the day because of your larger portion sizes.
As you start to learn more about the amount your child needs, you can serve less. Save a little in the pot in case they ask for seconds if you’re that worried about them going hungry.
Encourage Drinking More Water
Did you know that when our bodies need water, they send a message to the brains that they’re hungry? We get the hunger feelings, despite likely only eating an hour ago. It’s not that our bodies need that food, but the body doesn’t know how else to alert the brain that there’s a problem.
That feeling of dry lips or dry mouth is a later stage of dehydration. The headaches are towards the end when it’s already a problem for your body.
You want to encourage your children to drink more water throughout the day. Before each meal or before a snack, give your children a glass of water to drink. Encourage them to finish that glass before eating anything.
Not only are you feeding the body the necessary water, but you’re also helping to fill up the stomach. There isn’t as much room for the food. Your children are less likely to eat everything on their plate. This isn’t a bad thing, either. They’re more likely to eat just the amount of calories their bodies need, which means they don’t store calories later!
What about juice and pop? Well, you want to reduce the drinking of them as much as possible. The body doesn’t need the sugar that comes from juices, squash, and sodas. All you’re doing is adding extra calories.
If you want to add a flavor to water, you can add some fresh fruit to it. Add some lemon slices, lime slices, or even some strawberries. The natural fruit juices will soak into the water without adding any extra calories. Your kids will think they’re enjoying something out of the store or out of a can when you know that they’re getting something healthy.
When making fruity water, encourage your children to help. Let them see that they can get flavors naturally and healthily. Give them a chance to control the types of flavors they get and experiment with different flavorings and tastes. You’ll be surprised at how much they enjoy doing this.
The only other drink you will want to offer is milk, as long as your children aren’t lactose intolerant. This will help to add more protein to the body, which is necessary for the muscles. A glass of milk a day is good for kids.
Get Rid of the High-Calorie Foods
Your kids can only have what there is in the house. If you buy biscuits, cookies, and other high-calorie snacks, they are going to want them. These high-sugar foods are designed to make people want them. In fact, sugar is more addictive than alcohol and some drugs! When the body doesn’t get the sugar, it will go into withdrawals.
It’s time to get rid of the high-calorie foods. Take them out of the home, so your kids can’t have them. And stick to the habit of not getting them in the house. You’ll be surprised to find out that your kids will stop asking for them.
But doesn’t this make kids resent you and then gorge on them later?
This will depend on how you handle the odd high-calorie offer. You can include a small amount as part of a regular meal once a week. Let your children choose that high-calorie food with you. If you bake, get them to help you out.
You can also make low-calorie options look fun and sound like their high-calorie counterparts. Make some muffins or cupcakes with slightly altered recipes. Get air-popped popcorn in the house for those movie nights—a few zero calorie seasons will make the kids forget all about the buttery stuff in the movie theatre. Opt for frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for an after dinner meal.
Encourage healthier options for the snacks during the day. You want snacks that have two food groups: carbs and protein. They will also usually contain some fats and fiber automatically. Opt for some fruit slices and cheese for example. The cheese is viewed as fattening, but it’s full of muscle-building protein. A snack made of vegetable sticks with hummus is another excellent option.
Encourage More Playtime
Children need to burn off the energy that they have. It’s very easy to overlook their need for exercise throughout the day. Younger children will need your help to get it, but older children will just need some encouragement.
We’re in a world with computers and video games. Kids will spend more time chatting to their friends through headsets and phones, rather than hanging outside and played “cowboys and Indians” or “cops and robbers.” This is even worse because they see we sit down for long periods of time. More jobs are now behind a desk, rather than involving manual labor.
It’s time to encourage more playtime. Encourage your children to meet with friends in the park, even arranging play dates when they are younger. If you have a garden, encourage some play time out there.
You can also encourage time at invigorating hobbies. Encourage children to sign up for swimming lessons, dance classes, or even just going for a jog regularly. You can also do some of this with you. Martial arts classes will often allow parents to get involved, which gets children more into the exercise.
There are so many ways that children can move more. You can also help by limiting the amount of screen time they get. Not only will this help them move more, but can also help to prevent mindless eating and other health problems. When children watch a lot of TVs, they get bored and will start snacking without even thinking about it.
Lead by Example
The best thing you can do is to lead by example. Young children pick up habits from their parents. If they see you spend most of your free time in front of the TV, they will do too. If they see you go to the gym a lot and that you eat healthily, they will follow suit.
It’s time to create a routine that sets the best example for your children. If you’re obese, you’ll need to take steps to improve your own life. Share how unhealthy it is and what you’re doing to make some changes. You won’t want to scare your children, but you do need to show just why it is so bad for them to live an unhealthy life.
If they are currently overweight, you’ll also want to encourage them to start losing some of it. Get your doctor on the side for advice to make sure your children get the calories they need and the nutrients for a healthy lifestyle.