Dr. Saima N. Jafri, a pediatrician with Sanitas Medical Centers, Bridgeport, tries to help her young patients understand healthy food choices so it’s their decision to eat well.
“The best thing a parent can do is make the child part of the process,” she says. Some ways to do that, Dr. Jafri says, are:
- Cook together. When children help create a meal, they’ll become more invested in the food they eat. They’ll also learn how to prepare healthy food and enjoy quality family time in the kitchen.
- Plan and prepare meals in advance. Simple food prep makes it easier for children to grab a healthy snack or pack their own healthy lunch. The Lean Green Bean, Family Fresh Meals and MOMables offer suggestions for how to plan a week in advance and get the kids involved.
- Sit down as a family for meals. Jafri says structured eating may help reduce snacking and create more mindful eating habits. When you can’t eat together, make sure there are healthy options available for the whole family.
- Don’t forget about school lunches. If your child gets lunch at school, know what options are available. See if you can choose in advance. Talk to your children about making good choices and empower them to pick a healthy lunch.
This tag team approach often helps adults as well as children. It creates a support system and accountability within the home, says Dr. Jafri.
“The goal is to empower children, give them the tools they need to be well now and in the future,” she says.
Foods to choose for family meals and lunchboxes
Diet isn’t the only thing that contributes to childhood obesity, but it is a major factor, according to the Mayo Clinic.1
What to avoid — In choosing foods, experts recommend avoiding white rice and pasta, white bread and sugary cereal. These contain simple, or refined, carbohydrates that are digested quickly. They don’t make your brain feel satisfied. That means people eat more than they should and feel hungry again soon after eating.
What to eat instead — Complex carbohydrates are better options. These include foods like brown rice and whole grain bread and cereals. Even so, eat them in moderation. Jafri says adding a protein or fat can help to slow digestion of carbs and help you feel fuller longer. For example, eat an egg if you’re having toast and butter.
Other ways to improve a child’s diet are to reduce sugar-sweetened beverages, increase servings of fruits and vegetables, reduce fast food meals and adjust portion size.1
‘There are things you can do’
One-third of children are overweight or obese, says Dr. Jafri.2 Obese children are at a higher risk for chronic health concerns, including asthma, bone and joint problems and type II diabetes.# They are also more likely to be overweight or obese adults.$
“I don’t want to see any children go through this,” Jafri says. “There are things you can do to make a real change and prevent this from happening.
1 Mayo Clinic: Childhood obesity. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827. Accessed on February 1, 2019.
2 American Heart Association: BMI in Children. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/losing-weight/bmi-in-children. Accessed on March 4, 2019.
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC Healthy School s> Childhood Obesity Prevention, Childhood Obesity Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed on January 30, 2019.
4 Harvard School of Public Health: Obesity Prevention Source, Child Obesity. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/global-obesity-trends-in-children. Accessed on January 30, 2019.
Additional resources: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-kids-obesity/u-s-childhood-obesity-rates-rising-again-idUSKCN1GB2X5; https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/24/health/childhood-obesity-state-rates-study/index.html; https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/americans-kids-are-obese-it-s-getting-worse-n851246; https://www.ahealthieramerica.org/articles/facts-about-childhood-obesity-102