As a nutrition coach for Venice Nutrition, it's not all that uncommon for me to see the child of a parent I am working with. Many of the parents I work with are concerned that their children are overweight and not active enough, and ultimately heading down the same unhealthy path they did. I applaud all of these parents who care enough about their children to try to make a difference in their lives. As I work with mother/father and child, there are always some helpful tips and facts to know that can help any family enrich the lives of their kids and ensure a healthy future. Here are some of those tips and facts that you should know.
First, know that obesity is on the rise. In fact approximately 1 in every 7 children are obese. As obesity continues to rise, doctors are seeing more and more devastating cases of childhood diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all preventable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight. In one research study, it was reported that obese children live a "lower quality of life" than their non-obese peers. Sadly enough, these findings concluded that an obese child reports a quality of life on the same level as a child cancer patient.**
So as a parent, or caregiver, what can you do to help an overweight child or prevent a child from heading down this road? The excellent news is that you have the power to be a healthy role model. Here are some of the ways that my clients have helped their children to live well.
-Take control and remember you are the role model. If you live a healthy lifestyle, eat well and exercise and actually show that you enjoy it, your kids will follow. On the other hand, if you eat constant take out and junk food, don't exercise and spend any downtime on the coach and complain about being active, your kids will follow this unhealthy example as well. So take a stand. Take care of yourself, and become a healthier individual that you can be proud of. Your kids will too.
-I often tell this story to my clients. I was never allowed soda as a child growing up. It just wasn't available in my house because my parents refused to buy it......except on thanksgiving and christmas my parents would buy it more so for our guests than us. The funny thing was, my brothers and I would actually drink it out of a bowl with a spoon like it was some highly prized treat on holidays. Because to us, it was! It was so rare that we were allowed soda that we actually appreciated it, and knew it was a "once in a while" thing, when we had it. Even as adults, my brothers and I still don't reach for soda. My point is, your the adult. While your kids are in the house, you have control over what they eat and drink. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy, whole foods and that's what your kids will eat! And yes, I know you have no control over what they eat at friends houses or at school, but the truth is you do have control over your own home. And it's better that they see unhealthy foods as "occasional treats" instead of every day foods.
-Educate, educate, educate! If you teach, they will learn! Just make it exciting. At the supermarket, shop the "perimeter" where all the fruits, veggies, meat, dairy and whole foods are located. (You'll notice the aisles contain mostly the processed food). Ask your kid to pick out a new fruit or veggie or food they want to try. Then work together to come up with a fun recipe. If it's a new fruit, make a smoothie with it for example. Getting your kids involved in the educational process will help shape their culinary minds and help develop better skills to make healthier choices. At dinner time, have them point out on their plates the "protein, the carbs or the fat". There's nothing wrong with a child learning what's in their food and how to create a balanced meal. Let them search a cook book for a healthy recipe and make it together. Involve them and they will learn.
-Make sure your child is going to bed at decent time. Studies show that kids who lack sleep are typically overweight. Encourage relaxing activities before bed like reading or even light music.
-Limit TV, video game and computer time, another thing my parents did right. When I was a kid, I liked to play with my neighbors, tag, catch, you name it. I wasn't allowed to sit in front of the TV all day long. I was however allowed to watch tv after I played, did homework and had dinner and by then there was only about a half an hour to an hour left to actually watch it!
-Get active and get your kids active. Find out what makes your kid tick and encourage them. Does he or she like to dance? Encourage dance class. Maybe they like to skate- go with them and make it fun. Never complain about exercise, make it a normal part of life like brushing your teeth and your kids will see it this way too. I danced as a child and when I quit dancing, I started training in the gym at 15, lifting light weights and doing cardio. I found that I loved to sweat out my stress and working out gave me a sense of strength and confidence that I had never felt before.
-When I was a kid, my mom would make me a pita bread stuffed with salad and my favorite cheese with a little salad dressing on the side. Yes, I was a strange kid and had sophisticated culinary tastes. A pb and j never cut it for me. I would even order filet mignon at restaurants while my brothers picked chicken wings and fries. The point is though that I didn't try to buy the tater tots and massive cookies when I knew my mom made me my "special lunch"- the pita with the salad. I honestly loved it and I can remember looking forward to that lunch all day. So maybe, find out what your child's favorite lunch is, something they would love to eat. It doesn't have to be the conventional ham and cheese sandwich. Then aim to make it a few times a week with your child in place of the school lunch.
-Limit processed foods. Basically if it comes out of a box and is man-made, it's processed and probably contains alot of sugar, trans and hydrogenated fats, sodium and little to no protein or fiber. Load up on and serve your family whole, natural food as much as possible. This doesn't have to be extreme. For example, instead of packaged chicken tenders, throw a pre-seasoned roast chicken in the oven, which takes only minutes of prep work. Instead of instant mashed potatoes, try baked potatoes thrown in the oven with the chicken. Frozen veggies are fast and healthy. While grocery shopping, read labels and aim for bread with atleast 2 grams of fiber per slice and cereal with little sugar and high fiber. Have your kids help- again, get them involved.
And lastly, try not to use dessert as a reward for everything! Maybe a bike ride with your kids or a trip to the park is a reward. Be creative, take the time to educate your children, and be a positive role model yourself and you'll increase the quality of your child's life, now and forever.
Nutrition Coach and Head Chef
**Information adapted from webmd.com