If we take a trip back to the 1970s, we would see that the obesity rates of children and adolescents are a third of what they are today. With these rates on the rise, instilling healthy eating habits from the get-go should be a priority. That’s because childhood obesity isn’t an aesthetic issue – it’s a health issue! Childhood obesity is tied to a number of co-morbidities, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and asthma. Unfortunately, childhood obesity also puts children at risk for mood disorders and problems related to body image, self-esteem, and social isolation. Simply put: being young doesn’t make children immune to the dangers of poor health habits.
It’s no doubt everyone wants their children to live a happy and healthy life full of recreational sports, a positive self-image, meaningful peer relationships, and good grades. With Halloween right around the corner, many parents may feel tempted to cut back on the sugar their children are consuming. But you don’t need to take away the fun of Halloween to help them learn healthy eating habits. Here are 5 easy strategies you can use year-round to help your children develop healthy eating habits (treats included).
Make family dinner a priority.
Studies show that children who come from families who regularly eat dinner together have lower rates of obesity. This shows us how powerful sharing food can be in shaping a positive relationship with food. Don’t worry if you’re a single parent. Sitting down to enjoy a meal with your child can still have all the health benefits. If you want the big get together anyway, offer to host potlucks with other single parents. This is also a great way to expand your child’s palate. Speaking of…
Understand it can take 10-15 times for your child to accept a new food.
That’s right. Just because your child doesn’t like broccoli this time, or the next time, or the next 5 times, doesn’t mean you need to abandon all hope for that powerful little cruciferous vegetable. Keep making the food available, and eventually your child may develop a liking for it. It can be helpful to offer the new food with a food the child already enjoys.
Realize your child still likely has intact hunger and satiety signals.
“Finish your plate – there are starving kids out there!” Food waste is real, and so are hunger and satiety signals. By letting children decide when they’re hungry and when they’re finished eating, you’re helping them to avoid overriding these signals. Also keep in mind that children go through growth spurts, so their appetites might change from day to day or even meal to meal. However, if your child has an ongoing lack of appetite, it could be something more serious such as illness or constipation. Your safest course of action is always to call your pediatrician.
Model healthy eating habits.
You thought you were going to get a free pass, didn’t you? Children are wonderful imitators. We mostly notice it when it’s not such a good thing – such as when they learn your favorite cuss word. But they also imitate the good things, such as your eating habits. Chances are if your child sees you eating ice cream and not broccoli, he or she will want to do the same. Time to walk the walk!
Lastly, don’t restrict your kids.
Children are inclined to like sweets – it’s natural! As they get older, they’re also inclined to do what their peers are doing. This isn’t the time to police their junk food intake. While placing guidelines around food can be helpful (such as no Halloween candy before dinner), placing restrictions (such as no Halloween candy at all) can have the opposite effect. Studies show that when a child is restricted from a food, they ask for more of it more often. Instead, focus on letting your children learn how to eat in a balanced way and consume treats without guilt.
By being mindful of these points, you can help your children develop healthy eating habits that will last well into adulthood. One point worthy of discussion is that a child should never be on a weight loss plan. If you feel your child is overweight, your focus should be on allowing the child to grow into his or her weight. Your pediatrician is a wonderful resource for monitoring healthy weight gain, so don’t skip those check-ups!