8 Tips for Parents to Take Control of Childhood Obesity

It’s no secret that childhood obesity is on the rise. According to the CDC, over one third of children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese. If action is not taken to change the lifestyle of these children, they are more at risk for becoming overweight or obese as an adult.  

The time to take action is now, and the good news is that you’re about to learn 8 great ways to help reduce the risk in your own home, instantly!   

There are three leading positive influences to childhood obesity, meaning they help reduce the risk or prevalence: 

  • school system (which are being positively influenced by wonderful government, state and non-profit organization run- programs) 
  • home and household influence (parents, family members, older siblings) 
  • personal behaviors (talking with our children and addressing these behavioral triggers). 

As a parent, you have control over two of the three listed above:  household influence and the behavior of your child. It’s helpful to seek the advice and help of a Registered Dietitian (RD), as we are trained to counsel both children and their parents in a way that is motivating and client-centered. We want to develop a plan that works for you and your child. Otherwise it will not work at all.  

However, consulting with an RD is not always an immediate option. Until then, I hope you find these RD approved tips helpful in reducing the risk of childhood obesity in the home. 

  • Keep them involved in the meal preparation processWhen children are present and physically involved in any event, they are naturally more interested because they are invested. They want to know the outcome for their hard work. This very much applies to making meals. They feel proud of creating a meal for the family, especially if it’s a tasty meal and everyone is enjoying it. Imagine the level of confidence and pride when the comments come rolling in like “wow you made this?” and “it’s so delicious, you should make this again”. I’m pretty sure all is forgotten about the number of veggie type ingredients and they will be more than happy to help out in the kitchen again, regardless of the healthy menu. 
  • Once you have them involved in the kitchen, keep them involved by helping them plan the menu. Take Them Food Shopping! Let them know that they can pick one recipe out of a selection of healthy ones you are willing to help them make, and take them food shopping to select the ingredients. Take the time to review all the different varieties and selections of veggies and fruits. The colors, smells, level of ripeness, etc…. get them familiar with these types of produce before they even hit the plate. The more involved they are, the more interested they will be. These first two tips are immediately helping pave the way for a healthier, mindful lifestyle in regards to diet and eating. You are giving them the tools to select healthy meals for themselves, and more importantly, how to make them. It’s a beautiful thing. 
  • Make it a goal to prepare more meals at home. I am all for the take-out route when nights are just too hectic and getting home late is definitely in the cards. It’s important to know how to use that option sparingly and only in cases when you have no other option. The rest of the nights, do your best to prepare fresh, healthy meals. Here is the kicker:  KISS. Keep It Simple, Silly! I thrive on making tasty meals as quick and easy as possible. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be healthy and tasty. It is definitely doable and I know I am not the only nutrition geek out there that thrives off of quick healthy meals as well.  There needs no rhyme or reason- as long as it’s healthy and tastes good, its fair game. Veggie omelet for dinner because it’s easy and you know the family will love it? Yes, please!  If you have a busy schedule all five days of the week, consider… 
  • Preparing meals or ingredients ahead of time. I’m a huge believer in preparing a head of time. “if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail”. Do not be intimated by the people that devote 2+ hours of meal prepping on a weekend. Um, ain’t nobody got time for that! Personally, it depresses me. My hubby on the other hand, cannot function without prepping for 2 hours on a Sunday. I respect those individuals and admire them. It just doesn’t work for me. So instead I prepare what I can and plan to make my life easier during the week. What I can allot for prepping time, I use to pre-chop all of my lettuce and veggies for the week. It takes minutes to pan sauté some thinly sliced chicken breasts or toss together with some lean beans/lentils. You can easily cut your cooking time in half by at the very least, preparing and pre-cutting your veggies for the week. 
  • Amanda and I have written some great blog posts about 5 Tips For An Instant Pantry Makeover and Tips to Create a Healthy Kitchen. It’s amazing how such a small, simple idea like the positioning of a stored food item can have an impact on meal choices and selections. They are great reads that can influence the health of your family instantly. 
  • Cereal is a huge part of most children’s lives. It’ s a super easy and quick breakfast. It serves as a simple afternoon snack as well. I would not want to take the convenience and ease of serving cereal as a meal or snack, however, there is definitely room for improvement. I wrote a blog post about choosing healthy cereals– it’s not as easy as people think. I highlight only TWO criteria for choosing a healthy cereal, if nothing else:  The cereal should contain 3 grams or more of Fiber; and 7 grams or less of Sugar. It guarantees that the cereal is whole grain and low in added sugars. Life, Total, Cheerios and Special K multigrain are all great choices to start with. 
  • Keep foods that are processed to a minimum!  In fact, don’t even keep them in the house. Out of sight, out of mind. Amanda wrote a great blog post about 5 Tips to Reduce Processed Foodsin your daily diet. It’s a great read with helpful tips. However, us dietitians are human and believers in moderation, so it’s important to teach our kids that foods are not bad vs. good, but more so, which foods should be consumed more often, and which foods should be consumed less often. I like to refer to it as: 
  • Always foods vs. Sometimes foodsThere are foods that are to always be consumed like veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and foods rich in calcium. Then there are foods to be consumed “sometimes” like ice cream, Doritos, soda, etc… It’s important to teach your children when these “sometimes” occasions will occur. Make it an open discussion and let them decide. I practice this with my clients and there is nothing better than watching a child develop their own boundaries that they feel happy and comfortable with. They understand the importance of consuming these foods in moderation, and more importantly, they know what moderation means to them. More important than that, they understand why it’s important to have these foods in moderation. So back to my comment about “out of sight, out of mind”, I know it sounds harsh.  I am a firm believer that if you keep good food in the house, you will eat good food in the house. This leaves opportunities for those “sometimes” foods to be more appreciated when the occasion does arise, such as a birthday party or a weekend outing.