Helping Your Overweight Child
Healthy eating and physical activity are habits worth developing as they are key to your child's well-being. Eating too much and exercising too little can lead to weight gain and related health problems that can follow children into their adult years. You can take an active role in helping your child — your whole family — develop healthy eating and physical activity habits that can last for a lifetime.
Is my child overweight?
Because children grow at different rates at different times, it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. If you think that your child is overweight, talk to your health care provider. He or she can measure your child's height and weight and tell you if your child is in a healthy range.
How can I help my overweight child?
Involve the whole family in building healthy eating and physical activity habits. It benefits everyone and does not single out the child who is overweight.
Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless your health care provider tells you to. If children do not eat enough, they may not grow and learn as well as they should.
- Tell your child that he or she is loved, is special, and is important. Children's feelings about themselves often are based on their parents' feelings about them.
- Accept your child at any weight. Children will be more likely to accept and feel good about themselves when their parents accept them.
- Listen to your child's concerns about his or her weight. Overweight children probably know better than anyone else that they have a weight problem. They need support, understanding, and encouragement from parents.
Encourage healthy eating habits
- Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned). Let your child choose them at the store.
- Buy fewer soft drinks and high fat/high calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy. These snacks are OK once in a while, but keep healthy snack foods on hand too and offer them to your child more often.
- Eat breakfast every day. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
- Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
- Eat fast food less often. When you visit a fast food restaurant, try the healthful options offered.
- Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Fruit juice is a healthy choice but is high in calories.
- Do not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it.
- Try not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they think are less valuable.
- Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is up to you to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat.
Healthy snack foods for your child to try:
- Fresh fruit
- Fruit canned in juice
- Small amounts of dried fruits such as raisins, apple rings, or apricots
- Fresh vegetables such as baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes
- Reduced fat cheese or a small amount of peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers
- Low-fat yogurt with fruit
- Graham crackers, animal crackers, or low-fat vanilla wafers
Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard to chew, such as raisins, whole grapes, hard vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts, seeds, and popcorn can cause choking in children under age 4. You can still prepare some of these foods for young children, for example, by cutting grapes into small pieces and cooking and cutting up vegetables. Always watch your toddler during meals and snacks.
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 3/08
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