Maybe you're concerned about your child's weight. Maybe your child's pediatrician has expressed concern or perhaps you have been trying to make healthy changes for a while now. What do you do?
Instead of trying to conquer the whole mountain all at once, let's just think about a few simple changes that could really make a strong influence on your family. First, let's recognize that as parents, you are in the best position to help your kids develop healthy habits. And that's a good thing, because you love them and want the best for them. Take an honest look at where your family is at right now. The lifestyle habits that you hold as a family will influence your child's likelihood of having a healthy weight or their risk for becoming overweight. Here are a few questions to get you thinking and possibly inspire a few changes in your family:
1. Does our family eat breakfast?
Both kids and adults need to eat something to get the day started off right in the morning. It puts fuel in the empty tank after a night's rest. Studies actually show that kids who regularly eat breakfast have a healthier weight and perform better in school. Mornings are busy, so think about quick options like granola bars, cereal in a snack bag, fresh or dried fruit, or yogurt with granola. To make it well rounded, try to include 3 food groups.
2. Does our family eat together?
Families that eat together tend to eat healthier, more nutritious foods. Family meals don't have to be fancy or gourmet—or every night for that matter. Get everyone involved in making dinner happen – this includes shopping, planning, preparing and clean up, etc. Everyone can have a role and this will help skeptics buy-in to the idea if eating together is new to your family. If hectic schedules make it tough to share an evening meal, try eating together in the morning instead. Sharing meals together is an important part of creating a healthy relationship with food, so try to keep the conversations positive and save tough topics or discipline for another time.
3. Do we eat while watching TV?
Watching TV while you eat is a distraction. It makes you less aware of how much you are eating, and you will be more likely to overeat. It also takes away the opportunity to check-in and have a conversation with your family. It is recommended that screen time be limited to 2 hours or less per day as excessive screen time is associated with increased weight in youth.
4. Does my child eat fruits and vegetables at meals or snacks?
We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but really take a look at how well your family is doing in this area. Fruits are often easier for kids to eat because they taste sweet. Try to include vegetables at lunch and dinner plus at least one snack. Dip vegetables into hummus or low-fat ranch dressing to mix up the flavor. Try preparing veggies in a different way. For example, you can roast commonly eaten vegetables like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the oven to bring out a different texture and flavor. An overall goal: aim to make half of your plate full of fruits and vegetables.
5. Does my child drink nonfat/low-fat milk at meals or snacks?
If your child often skips milk and opts for sugary beverages like pop, he or she is missing out on essential nutrients for growth. Young children ages 2-3 need 2 cups of skim or 1% milk per day, 3-8 year olds need 2 ½ cups and 9 years and older need 3 cups per day. In addition to drinking milk, calcium-rich foods include yogurt, cheese, soy milk or fortified orange juice.
6. Does your family provide opportunities for physical activity?
Kids are naturally active, but they will follow your lead on this one. Youth that regularly participate in physical activity are at a reduced risk for becoming overweight. You may need to remind your kids to be active throughout the day. This can be a combination of free play or structured activities to move more.
Encourage your kids to be active by being active yourself. Show your kids that physical activity is a family value. Start new traditions by walking together after dinner, crank up the music and have a dance party or do a contest to see who can do the most push-ups. Ask your kids for their ideas. Have them create new games that will get your family moving. Ask them what they enjoy doing the most in PE class and learn how to do it as a family. Don't be afraid to be silly! This will make it more fun for everyone, and it won't feel like "working out," but just playing. When was the last time you tried hula hooping? Have a blast with your kids trying to teach them how.
What's next? There are many factors that influence weight beyond what is discussed here, but this is a good start. Balance is essential when it comes to maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. Try to make the most of your food choices by opting for nutritious foods and drinks most of the time. Decide to start doing something for your family's health today. It doesn't have to be all of these areas, maybe one or two at the most, but start today!
Audra Losey, MS, RD
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Douglas/Sarpy Counties
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Ihmels MA, Welk GJ, Eisenmann JC, Nusser SM. Development and preliminary validation of a Family Nutrition and Physical Activity (FNPA) screening tool. International Journal of Behavior and Physical Activity 2009, 6:14.