I’m sure by now you’ve heard some of the alarming stats about childhood obesity. One in every three children is considered obese — that’s one third of our children! That’s scary because along with the increased obesity rates has come an increase in medical conditions previously seen only in adults: hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and more. Clearly, childhood obesity is an important issue, and I am glad to work in a field where I can be a part of the solution.
I know it sounds simple, but I strongly believe the best answer to obesity is prevention. The key to prevention is education. One of the main reasons I became a dietitian was to help children prevent health issues simply by learning how to have a healthy relationship with food. As a school dietitian, I help teach children what a well-balanced meal looks like and even that healthy food can taste good!
As moms, you can also teach your child to make healthy food choices as just a regular part of his or her day. You have the opportunity to make a huge impact on your child’s present and future health and weight by helping shape his or her attitude toward food.
How can you teach your child about healthy eating? Use meal and snack times to talk about nutrition and healthy food choices throughout the day:
- Teach about the food groups and don’t eliminate or focus on any one group. Studies are showing more and more that a well-balanced eating pattern is the healthiest. This type of pattern includes whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, as well as various protein sources. Teach your child what types of food are in each category and how they fit into a healthy diet.
- Teach the MyPlate method. MyPlate is such a simple concept, and even the youngest of children can learn how to use it. It is a great way to teach what a well-balanced meal looks like. The MyPlate concept focuses on filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, varying your protein sources, and choosing low-fat dairy options and whole grains.
- Teach proper portion sizes. Children need to know what a healthy portion looks like since even healthy foods can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess. Serve your meals on a regular size dinner plate — that should be about eight inches in diameter. This allows room for healthy portion sizes without a lot of extras.
- Instead of focusing on what your child shouldn’t eat, focus on what he or she gets to eat! Encourage your child to be open to trying new food items and different flavor profiles. Allow your child to help choose a new fruit or vegetable to try. I promise it will be impossible for your child to pass the colorful fruits and vegetable in the grocery store without wanting to try them! You can also let them choose a theme night for a fun way to introduce them to other cultures and flavors from around the world.
- Teach children how to read food labels and ingredient lists. This is an important skill that will allow your child to make wise food decisions. Practice reading and math skills using the labels. You can also teach them to use resources to plan ahead in order to make healthier food choices. Show them how to find menus and nutrition information for restaurants. Even schools have apps in order to view nutrition information!
- Finally, be a role model. Don’t focus on your own weight or food struggles; instead, lead by example. Show your child that making healthy food choices is important for you, too.
Teaching your child about food and helping them develop healthy attitudes is key to helping prevent obesity. But, I can’t talk about combating obesity without discussing movement! Again, you have the greatest influence on your child’s opinions of this concept. If you view exercise as just fun, family time, chances are your child will enjoy being active. Encourage spending time together without the television or game consoles. Let each family member choose a different activity each time. Jumping rope, biking, sight-seeing, and even dancing contests are all great ways to entertain everyone! Make being active a regular part of the day, and help develop healthy, life-long habits in your children.
By incorporating teaching moments into your regular, everyday activities and leading by example, moms are our children’s greatest educators. If you’re unsure of where to begin in any of these areas, be sure to tap into your resources. Take advantage of reputable websites, and reach out to your community dietitians. Encourage your child to develop life-long eating and health habits and you are well on the way to preventing childhood obesity.
Carolyn M. Moore, MS, RDN, LD. When her daughter went off to college, Carolyn made the decision to “practice what she preaches” and went back to college herself. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas Woman’s University. It was during her TWU dietetic internship at a local school district that she fell in love with school food service. Carolyn now works in her dream job as a dietitian/trainer with Ft. Worth ISD.