Healthy Eating for Kids

Ten ways to encourage kids to eat healthy and avoid child obesity

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Establishing healthy eating habits in children at a young age is critical: According to statistics, approximately 25 percent of school-age children today are obese — a 20 percent increase since 1990. If your child is struggling with his or her weight, here are 10 strategies you can implement right now to keep the numbers on the scale from creeping up.

1. Watch what your kids drink.
Sugary beverages can pack on the pounds, so replace soda and juice drinks with water or flavored seltzers. Even nutritious juices can add up: Most experts recommend only 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice for children under age 6 and only 8 to 12 ounces for older children. Drinking eight glasses of juice or soda — which is not particularly uncommon — can add 1,000 calories to your child's diet!

2. Think natural.
Make fruits, vegetables and lean meats the majority of your child's diet; pre-packaged and fast foods should be an occasional treat. By packing your child's lunch — at least a couple of times a week — rather than handing out cafeteria money, you can help monitor meals and snacks when your child is away from home.

3. Skip super-sized portions.
Despite what commercials feed them, kids really need kid-sized servings. Even too much of healthy foods can add up to more calories than they need.

4. Healthy eating starts in the grocery store.
Avoid tempting, calorie-laden treats by replacing them with nourishing (but tasty) substitutes. Try popcorn or pretzels instead of chips and chocolate Italian ices rather than full-fat ice cream.

5. Don't ban sweets entirely.
Kids who are never allowed the occasional treat often binge when away from their parents' watchful eyes. Rather than prohibiting them completely, save indulgences such as ice cream sundaes and potato chips for special occasions so your child doesn't feel deprived.

6. Don't make your child a member of the "clean-plate club."
While showing empathy for starving children in Africa is important, children pay more attention to their own hunger signals. Allow children to stop eating when they're full; should your children become hungry later, cut up an apple or unwrap a cheese stick.

7. Incorporate exercise and physical activity into your daily routine.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that children accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Make it fun with a game of soccer in the backyard, walks along a local nature trail or a family bike-riding expedition.

8. Show love and acceptance toward your child despite his or her weight.
Overweight children need support, approval and encouragement from their parents to feel secure and self-confident. Don't harp on their tight clothes or pot bellies. Overweight children are usually painfully aware of their own weight problem without parental comments. (In a national survey, 30 percent of students surveyed described themselves as overweight.) Focus on issues of health and well-being rather than appearance.

9. In some cases, concentrate on not gaining — rather than losing — weight.
Realize that an appropriate goal for many overweight children is to maintain their current weight while growing normally in height.

10. Talk to your pediatrician if you have major concerns.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals are the best people to determine whether your child or adolescent's weight is healthy. These professionals can also help rule out rare medical problems as the cause of unhealthy weight.

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