There's no denying it – as a nation, we're getting heavier and heavier. And, our poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are affecting our kids, too. Just as adults are struggling with the "battle of the bulge", statistics show that our kids are getting heavier and that they are experiencing obesity-related health problems at very young ages.
Parents face an uphill struggle when it comes to getting kids to be more active and to eat healthy foods. Like adults, many kids face pressures of too much work and too little time for leisure-time activity, and the lure of television, video games or surfing the net often keeps them indoors. Food choices are influenced by taste, cost and convenience, and many foods are marketed as "cool" – something kids may value more than healthy nutrition.
Ultimately, parents are responsible for helping kids to make proper choices, and making sure there are healthy foods at home is a great place to start. Parents also need to set an example for their kids by eating right and staying active, too. Here are some tips to help your child eat smart and play hard:
- Keep a bowl of fresh whole fruit on the kitchen counter where it can be seen, or some cut up fruits or vegetables in plain view when the refrigerator door is open. By making these items convenient and easy to consume, kids are more likely to eat them.
- Take kids to the grocery store with you and use the time for some nutrition education. Older kids can learn how to read food labels, and often enjoy making comparisons between items and trying to find healthy alternatives. You can also do some negotiating with your kids by selecting items together that you both agree are acceptable.
- Get your kids involved in food preparation. Children are much more likely to eat foods when they have helped to prepare them. If you enjoy cooking, encourage your child to try new foods by preparing new dishes with you.
- Be patient when trying to get kids to try new foods. Studies show that repeated exposure does work – so keep offering foods, and encourage kids to try "just a bite". It may take more than a dozen tries, but it's worth the effort.
- Be a good role model. It's difficult for busy parents to put a balanced meal on the table every night, but kids need to know that their parents value their own nutritional intake. Try to include veggies or a salad at mealtimes, and serve fruit for dessert.
- Help your kids (and yourself) with portion control. Serve foods from the kitchen, rather than placing serving dishes family-style on the table, to avoid taking "just another spoonful". Studies show that we tend to eat what we are served – whether it's a little or a lot – and empty plate usually signals that we're finished.
- Don't be a couch potato yourself. Your kids need to know that you value an active lifestyle. Get outdoors with them for a bike ride, a jog, or to shoot some hoops, and make sure they know how good you feel when you get your blood pumping.
- Plan ahead. It's easier said than done, but planning meals ahead of time, making a shopping list, and preparing meals in bulk so you have extras on hand can help make evening meals less stressful.
- Snack smart. Active kids need snacks, but typical snack foods are loaded with fat and sugar. Keep the sodas and chips out of the house, but have fruit, yogurt, string cheese, nuts or soy nuts or healthy cereals on hand for those snack attacks. Kids also like making their own smoothies, so keep some milk, fresh or frozen fruit and some protein powder around and let them experiment.
- Build exercise into your day, and encourage your kids to do the same. If you're on the phone, walk around the house or yard while you talk, instead of sitting down. Find errands you can walk to, rather than taking the car. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and park a few blocks away from the mall.
Susan Bowerman is a consultant to Herbalife.