The word is out that childhood obesity and accompanying health problems like diabetes and heart disease are rising in America. Past generations of children engaged in far more physical activity than today’s children do. Lacking the blatant, indoctrinating commercialism urging today’s children to demand foods high in fat, sugar and sodium, and having wise parents who were not intimidated by their children or the media, previous generations of children did not experience many health problems until they were much older.
Teaching children healthy eating habits at an early age benefits them, their families and society. Fancy packaging and the media tying their product to children’s popularity and self-esteem makes teaching healthy eating habits challenging, but it is something parents must do if children are to grow into healthy, responsible adults able to make wise lifestyle choices.
Parents can help children make healthy food choices by banning all unhealthy foods from the home and replacing them with healthy alternatives. Keep plenty of fruit on hand for snacking; replace sugary drinks with water you flavor with lemon or sugar free flavorings. Offer low fat granola bars instead of high sugar, high fat cookies and chips. Make sure they spend time participating in physical activities and less time in front of the television or computer, where much of the temptation to eat junk food lies.
Discourage eating while watching television, as mindless eating leads to weight gain, and children concentrating on a TV program may not realize when they are full. Designate specific eating areas in your home like the kitchen or dining room, and do not allow children to take food to their bedrooms or homework areas.
Make it a regular practice to eat dinner as a family, with lively, pleasant conversation and tasty, healthy food on the menu.
Taking your children shopping and allowing them to choose healthy items for their meals, teaches them to choose healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods, and makes them feel part of the decision-making. Teaching them to help prepare meals gives them a feeling of accomplishment in providing healthy meals for the family.
Check with your school’s lunch program to make sure meals are healthy and balanced. Don’t be afraid to gather other concerned parents and meet with school administrators about changing what the cafeteria serves if the majority of the food is not healthy.
Snacking can be part of overall nutrition, so schedule snacks and keep to the schedule. Kids are usually hungry when they come home from school, and having enjoyable healthy snacks will satisfy that hunger. An occasional cookie, piece of cake or ice cream will not hurt, especially at parties or holidays, but keep snacks simple and healthy most of the time.
Never use food as a reward or punishment as this may lead children to worry that they will go hungry, and sets the stage for overeating, and yo-yo dieting throughout their lives.
Expect your children to challenge you while you teach them that making healthy choices now will help them lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle as adults, who in turn, will teach their children what they learned from you.