One of the biggest challenges facing parents today is keeping their kids healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five school-aged children in the United States is considered obese, a number that seems to keep growing. Couple that with the fact that over one-third of all adults in the country are obese and you can see that the problems are interconnected.
“One of the most important things parents can do for their children is model good behavior when it comes to teaching their kids about healthy eating habits,” says Thea Runyan, co-founder of Kurbo, an online platform designed to help children maintain healthy weight levels. “If you can teach them at an early age that eating healthy is fun, you can set them on the road to success.”
Since children are actively still growing and developing, parents need to be especially careful about what their kids eat. “When it comes to kids, the word diet can bring up negative connotations,” says Runyan. “I recommend instead watching three areas where kids can quickly get into trouble and often their parents don’t even recognize it.” Here are the three areas to focus upon:
Much has been said about America’s obsession with soda. Laws have been passed, politicians have fought them, and school districts have restricted them. But, an even sneakier problem is juice drinks. “One glass of orange juice can contain 250 calories, it’s all sugar water and nothing else,” says Runyan. Most juices and sodas are high in calories — and not much else. So if you want your kids to maintain a healthy diet, keep the sodas, juices, and Gatorade out of the house and instead teach your children to drink water. For fun, you can create “spa water” where you add mint, cucumber, or slices of oranges into a pitcher of water.
Wean your household off any cereals that have more than six grams of sugar and three grams of fat per serving. “You would not feed your child four tablespoons of sugar to start your day would you?” says Runyan. “Well that’s what they get with many of today’s cereals.” Cereals like Life, Kix, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, and regular Cheerios are all good diet choices — and you can put some fresh-cut fruit on top to help soften the change.
Many of the “healthy” snacks on your local grocery store shelves are nothing more than high-calorie cookies and candy bars — cleverly disguised. Learn to read the labels to see what is really in what you’re buying and whether it is in line with a healthy diet for kids. “Once parents learn what really is in many of the granola and protein bars they and their children are eating, they quickly begin to understand why their waistlines are expanding.” says Runyan. Instead, chop up fresh veggies and fruit on Sundays and have them inside the fridge in Tupperware containers, ready to eat. Then when snack time arrives, it’s easy to fill up the right way.
Taking your children’s favorite sugar bombs away all at once will likely come with crying, yelling, and tantrums, so Runyan recommends spending a few weeks tapering them off. Once these problem foods are gone for good, she adds, make sure that they never re-enter the house. “Make getting a soda or a candy bar a treat on Saturday when you eat out,” says Runyan. “It can be a reward for having a great week and help teach your child about moderation.”
The best part? While your kids are reining in their waistlines, you very well could be too.
Diet Tips for Kids: A Cheat Sheet
- A healthy diet avoids sugary drinks, period.
- Cereals are the next thing on the list for added sugar and needless calories.
- Healthy snacks are an essential part of a kids’ diet — read labels and make sure they are just that.