In the United States, the percentage of children and teens affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Really!  Data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States are obese. 

From the CDC:

  • Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal-weight peers.
  • They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. The effects of this can last into adulthood.
  • Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone, and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being reported among children who are overweight. The beginning of diabetes in children can lead to heart disease and kidney failure.
  • Children with obesity also have more risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol than their normal-weight peers. And remember, these can last a lifetime. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of children who were overweight had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 25% had two or more CVD risk factors.

What Can Families do Day to Day?

Small changes can make a big difference. One more home-cooked dinner a week, replacing take out or restaurant food could cut hundreds of calories out of a child’s diet. And by including children in meal prep they can learn to make a few healthy meals themselves as they get older. As children stir, mash and prep encourage them to taste the food. By asking them to pick out fruits and vegetables during grocery shopping, they are much more likely to eat their choices.

While prepping dinner, have cheese cubes, baby carrots and cherry tomatoes available for snacking. 

Did you know that it takes at least 20 minutes for your stomach’s “I’m full and have had enough” satiation center to signal the brain that it’s time to stop eating. So use that information and begin your dinners with salad and a vegetable appetizer, then wait a bit to offer the main course.

We all know that soda is not a healthy beverage choice and should be a very occasional treat. But substituting fruit juices has not proved to be a good idea either. Karen Balko, a registered dietitian at Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto, lays it out. “Liquid calories are contributing to the obesity epidemic.” The problem is that juice just concentrates all the fruit sugar without giving us the fiber and flavonoids that we would get it we ate the actual fruit. Three apples (a juice box worth of juice) would also fill you up and curb your appetite; juice does not. Better to offer kids water and low-fat milk as beverages instead.

Don’t Bring it Home

Unless the kiddos are taking the car keys to go on a nachos run, we adults are in charge of what food is in the house. I know, because I can’t have chocolate chips in my house or they will be devoured within a nano-second.  When it comes to the salty, crunchy snacks, who doesn’t love Doritos, Fritos, Cheez-its, potato and tortilla chips? Well…pretty much everything on that aisle should stay there in the store, except for special occasions. If all your children have available to snack on are carrot sticks, apple slices, string cheese, and mixed nuts, then they are much more likely to reach for something healthy.

And, I know if there are salty snacks or sweets in the house, it’s easy to unconsciously take handful after handful without thinking which can lead to half a bag gone before you know it. It’s worse if we’re watching TV or videos. Healthier eating starts in the grocery store by making healthy choices.

Eating Out – Best Fast Food Choices:

But, life being the way it is with hectic schedules we will find ourselves getting a quick meal out. Here are my suggestions for menu choices when you find yourself choosing fast food. These will all provide better nutrition, fewer carbs and less fat:

Panda Express

• Mixed Veggies Side Dish Portion (8.6 ounces)

70 calories, no saturated fat, 0.5 g total fat, 530 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 4 g sugars, 5 g fiber, 4 g protein

• Broccoli Chicken (String Bean Chicken, even better)

180 calories, 2 g sat fat, 9 g total fat, 630 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 2 g sugars, 3 g fiber, 13 g protein

• Broccoli Beef

150 calories, 1.5 g sat fat, 6 g total fat, 720 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 2 g sugars, 3 g fiber, 11 g protein

Taco Bell

• Chicken Soft Taco Fresco Style 

150 calories, 6 g fat, 2 g fiber, 9 g protein

• Spicy Tostada 

210 calories, 10 g fat, 5 g fiber, 6 g protein

• Veggie Power Menu Bowl

 480 calories, 19 g fat, 13 g fiber, 14 g protein 

McDonald’s

• Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

310 calories, 4 g fat, 62 g carbs, 6 g protein

• Regular Burger 

250 calories, 8 g fat, 31 g carbs, 13 g protein, skip the fries and soda!

Panera

• Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken 

400 calories, 9 g fat, 33 g protein, 1390 mg sodium

• Chicken Noodle Soup (1 ½ CUPS) (or Vegetable Soup) 

170 calories, 4 g fat, 1g saturated fat, 1,490 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 13 g protein

• With the soup have a Turkey on Whole Grain at 540 calories, 17 g fat, 1,180 mg sodium, 64 g carbs, 37 g protein

Also, be sure to show your kids the calorie counts on the menus and have them make choices that are under 500 calories for everything they’re ordering Also, you should make healthy choices and then talk to your kids about why these are better choices. When shopping or putting food away in the house, ask them to read the nutritional information. Understanding how food is turned into fuel and fat and how that affects the way they look and feel can empower children to make positive changes.

Do you have any tips to help children make healthier food choices?  I’d like to hear from you.

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