Develop Healthy Eating Habits for the Entire Family

I attended a community forum on October 16th, 2003, on children and obesity. Unfortunately the numbers of children who are overweight in Solano County were very discouraging. Too many of our children are overweight. In this area, 27% of all children are overweight. Even more are unfit. Studies show these children can suffer from Type 2 diabetes, joint pain, high blood pressure and something that hurts children even more – social ostracism.

There aren't many more hurtful things, a child can experience, than being made fun of by her/his peers. If these taunts stem from a child being overweight, it can lead to a lifetime of low self-esteem, chronic weight gain and loss, and physical problems, including those mentioned above as well as sleep apnea, asthma and symptoms of depression.

The problem is real and it's growing. For the first time in human history, there is a very real danger of the next generation living fewer years than the generation that preceded them. Public health professionals are worried that unless this trend is turned around, and soon, Americans will lose the hard-earned gains in longevity Instead of living an average of 77 years, our obese children may live less – how many fewer years is yet unknown, but any loss is shameful and unnecessary.

Do something about the problem!

10 Easy Steps for Parents:

  1. Make physical activity easy and safe. Set an example; limit tv and screen time.
  2. Get familiar with the Food Pyramid. It tells you that we need to eat 2-3 servings a day from the Milk Group, 2-3 servings a day from the Meat group, 3-5 servings from the Vegetable group, 2-4 servings a day from the Fruit group, and 6-11 servings every day from the bread group. Keep fatty foods and those filled with sugar to a minimum. This includes sweetened beverages.
  3. Get involved in your community. Make sure sidewalks and bike paths are safe, to encourage usage.
  4. Make sure nearby parks are clean, free of debris; all play equipment should be in good repair.
  5. Buy and serve as many fresh foods as possible. Many local farmers sell their nutritious crops at Farmers Markets. By taking your child with you, when you go to a Farmer's Market, you're showing, by example, that buying fresh fruits and vegetables is fun and yummy! Talk with your child about how tasty a particular item is, tell your little one what benefits are gained from the things you're buying and how you expect to prepare it when you get home.
  6. Long before your child attends elementary school, visit the school you plan to send your child to and talk with the principal. One of the things you need to know is what's on the school's breakfast and lunch menus – ask for a copy, so you can evaluate its nutritional value. If it doesn't meet your standards, discuss what can be changed with the principal. Don't assume nothing can be done – remember, you are always your child's best advocate!
  7. Talk to your child care provider about the meals and snacks that are served. Ask for a weekly menu. If one isn't available, suggest to your provider that you'd like to have one the next week. If one still isn't available, it may mean that your provider isn't devoting enough time to planning what will be served everyday. And you need to know your child is receiving a variety of foods that contain lots of nutrition. Also talk to your day care provider about how a child is handled if they are a “picky” eater.
  8. Ask your child care provider about their outdoor play activities. Children must be allowed and encouraged to develop their gross motor skills. This sort of activity will also help a child burn off any extra calories.
  9. As soon as your child can help in the kitchen, let them! Yes, it may be more messy and maybe a busy week-day morning isn't the best time, but as often as possible, involve your child with whatever you're doing to prepare a meal. Children as young as 2 years can help you as you push the bread down in the toaster, they can help you pour water or milk into a pot, then pour oats in and watch as it turns into oatmeal! As they grow, they will come learn so many valuable lessons with you, in the kitchen.
  10. If a child isn't hungry, please don't insist that they finish every bite of food that you've put on their plates. When my daughters were much younger, I made the mistake of insisting that they finish their meals. Occasionally, when they didn't, I put what remained on their plates, into the refrigerator and had them eat that the following day.

Wow, have I learned a lot since then! Happily, they weren't scarred for life by those rare occurrences (whew!). If a child doesn't want to eat, determine if they are coming down with something or are out and out sick. Appetites that are usually fine, can sometimes fade, for no particular reason. By the next meal, a healthy appetite should return to normal. However, if your child doesn't seem interested in eating much of anything, for a few days, don't hesitate to call your health care provider. Children, especially babies, should not be losing weight.

Remember, the eating habits you help your child develop will last their lifetime. Make the habits healthy ones!