Child Health Day on Oct. 3 shines a national spotlight on healthy lifestyles and physical activity levels for children. One serious issue facing today’s children is obesity, and parental guidance is key to helping children and adolescents maintain a healthy weight.
“Adolescents rely on parents for grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation, and often develop similar habits to those of their parents,” said Lauren Carlson, a dietitian at Fairview’s clinics in Fridley and Blaine. “If parents aren’t spending time purchasing healthy foods, meal planning and eating meals as a family, adolescents will follow in their footsteps.”
Carlson said there are a number of common nutrition mistakes parents make that can lead to weight gain for children.
- Lack of involvement in meal planning: Sit down as a family and talk about what you want to eat for the week. Try to choose balanced meals that include lean proteins, whole grains, heart healthy fats and a lot of vegetables. Make your grocery list at the same time you meal plan so that you can ensure you will have all the necessary ingredients to make meals at home.
- No family involvement in grocery shopping: Bring the kids along on trips to the grocery store. Spend most of the time shopping the perimeter of the store, where produce, meat and dairy is stocked, and less time in the middle aisles, which house more processed foods.
- Poor shopping strategy: Shop smart, but don’t be too strict. Spend time looking at food labels, but don’t obsess either. Allow children to pick what snacks they want, encouraging more fruits and vegetables but allowing favorite snacks as well.
- Eating on the go: Try to limit fast food to once a week or less, as it increases caloric intake and can lead to weight gain.
- Sugary snacks: Try to find snacks with less than 9 grams of sugar per serving. Look for the word “whole” in snacks containing grain. The less saturated fat, the better. Choose healthier snacks such as fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy (watch for added sugars!) more frequently, and choose crackers, chips, baked goods, etc. less frequently.
- Sedentary evenings: Increase activity after dinner. Go for a walk, toss around the football or play charades. Decrease the amount of sitting and increase the amount of moving to decrease chance for further weight gain.
The way parents approach healthy eating and weight management with their children can also have an effect.
“I tend to discuss healthy food options, portion control and activity as ways to monitor calorie intake rather than counting calories,” Carlson said. “I want children to have a healthy relationship with food.”
Balance, moderation and variety should be the guiding principles in developing healthy family habits, Carlson said.
“Kids aren’t expected to eat perfectly,” she said. “Adopting healthier behaviors allows room for snacks, desserts and other favorite foods occasionally. It’s all about balance.”