Should My Child Be On a Diet?
First of all, N-O!
Now, let us elaborate…
This can be a tough question parents may ask themselves after a visit to the pediatrician’s office, a BMI report from their child’s school or for some when their child asks about their weight and if he/she needs to lose weight. As adults, many of us think “diet” when it comes to getting to a healthy weight- as a pediatric dietitian; I’d like to ask that parents think of family change when it comes to helping a child get to a healthy weight.
Family change is far more effective than getting your child started on a roller coaster of fad diets where you’re cutting out carbs one day and trying weight loss shakes the next. With the support of a family that is working towards healthy change together, your little one can have the support he or she needs to achieve healthy behaviors that will last a lifetime.
Here are a few of my favorite lifestyle changes for families- all of them can be helpful for your children (no matter what their weights are) to instill healthy behaviors.
Supportive Food Environment: Of course with healthy change should come healthy foods, so stock up with the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and lean protein. More than just the obvious changes, it’s important to identify foods in the house that your child may struggle with. If your child seeks out favorite snacks such as potato chips or cookies and struggles with portion size for these foods it can be helpful to buy those foods periodically, say once a month rather than weekly.
Calorie Free Beverages: For your supportive food environment one very effective change you can make is removing the calorie-filled beverages such as juice, soda and other sweetened beverages. These drinks provide empty, excess calories to your child’s day that can lead to weight gain. Offer water, seltzer or low fat milk for daily beverages and leave the sweetened drinks for special occasions.
Family Dinners: Studies show that children from families who share a meal together at least 3 times per week were more likely to be within a normal weight range and have better eating patterns consisting of healthier foods. Make an effort to gather around the dinner table with your family (without the TV please!) and reap the benefits of this shared meal.
Activity Time: Physical activities such as hiking, bike riding, swimming or even a walk after dinner can be a great way to spend time together and start exercise as a regular part of your family routine. Obviously this can be a challenge when the week gets busy, but even something as simple as an after dinner walk or a quick toss around of the Frisbee can make a difference. Try to work in longer periods of time on weekends for a bigger family activity such as going for a hike or long bike ride.
Family Dessert Night: Many parents struggle when they are faced with the nightly question of “can I have dessert?” It can be a tough negotiation to face after a long day and can often lead to giving into your little one’s sweet tooth a bit too often. A simple solution can be to define a family dessert night (or two depending on what works for your family). Designate a day where the entire family enjoys a dessert and on the remainder of the week offer fruit after dinner if still hungry.