How to keep your child at a healthy weight
In England, one in five children is overweight or obese by the age of 11 and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the figure is more than one in four. So what can you do to avoid your children or grandchildren becoming overweight? Here are six ideas:
1. Watch the portion size
Children don’t need as much food or as many calories as adults so keep portions small and only give a second serving if the child requests it. Katie Peck, a health coach, nutritionist and registered dietitian, says: “Ensure your child eats well at mealtimes by teaching them how to manage their appetite in between meals. If they eat too many snacks, and then the parent is telling them to finish their large portion size (and the child is eating when they are not hungry), that’s a recipe for weight gain.”
2. Ensure your child eats a balanced diet
Try to make sure everyone eats a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh vegetables to give them the vitamins and minerals they need. Says Katie: “It's important that parents have confidence with healthy meal planning. To eat a balanced diet, avoiding sugary foods is key. For example, at breakfast I’d recommend wholegrain cereals with milk, or yoghurt and fruit, eggs on toast with a glass of milk – and snacks can be home made, such as no-sugar banana loaf, cheese cubes and carrot or veggie sticks. Offer healthy snacks when they get home from school such as toast or wholegrain crackers with Marmite and cheese and a glass of milk.”
3. Don’t burden young children with too much responsibility
Katie warns that young children shouldn’t be encouraged to choose meals, as they won’t necessarily select something that gives them the nutrients they need. “I often see parents asking a young child what they want as they buy their shopping – all too often the child asks for sweets or a treat, so it’s definitely not a good idea,” she says. However, getting older children (from around 10 years old) involved in meal planning is a great opportunity to teach them about how to combine healthy ingredients.
4. Lead by example
Eating healthy meals and snacks, and taking time to eat mindfully, shows children that it is the norm. Conversely, ‘treating’ yourself with sweet or fatty foods – or saying you feel guilty after eating – links food with negative (or similar) emotions, and this can lead children to pick up on habitual emotional eating (such as eating when stressed or worried), which can in turn lead to weight gain. “Try to be careful about how you describe your own feelings about your body and dieting,” says Katie, “as that can lead to a child learning to have a negative relationship with food.”
5. Make eating an important time to get together
One in three children eats dinner in front of the television in the UK. This can lead to mindless eating, whereas eating together as a family at the dining table is a great way of keeping an eye on what children are eating and ensuring they learn to love healthy food. “Encourage children to partake in meal prep when they’re old enough,” adds Katie. “I see so many adults who have no skills in the kitchen, which can lead to over-reliance on fast food or ready meals.”
There are lots of ways children can become involved in the kitchen – from measuring and mixing ingredients to setting the table or helping wash up. All of them encourage valuable skills that will stand them in good stead later.
6. It’s not just about food
As well as watching how you eat, instilling an active lifestyle helps keep the weight from creeping on. Rather than lolling on the sofa, gather children up for a trip to the park.
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