“Mommy….can I have a snack?” That’s the greeting I wake up to every morning from my insistent little 3 year old. I then proceed to explain to her that we have to eat breakfast first and then healthy snacks may follow.

We live in a culture of instant gratification and when we feel the first pangs of hunger, immediately, we reach for the nearest snack … be it chips, cookies, candy, etc. Unfortunately, we often set  a poor example for our children and hand them the easiest and most accessible food within reach.

Recent data from the American Heart Association shows that among children ages 2–19, about 1 in 3 are overweight and obese (BMI-for-age at or above the 85th percentile of the 2000 CDC growth charts.) and 1 in 6 are obese (BMI>95th percentile). Compared with 1973 to 1974, the proportion of children 5 to17 years of age who were obese was 5 times higher in 2008 to 2009. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “we are raising the first generation of youth who will live sicker and shorter lives than their parents.”

What explains this shift? Perhaps, it is that we are a busier society now … shuttling children to daycare in the morning eating breakfast on the go and picking them up after a long day of work when we are exhausted. Perhaps the demands placed on women are higher now expecting to work outside the home full time as well as cooking for the family and making sure the children are performing at their best both academically and in sports. We may want to take a moment to stop from the hurry…and simplify our daily routine, eliminating unnecessary tasks and activities. Maybe our children don’t need to be involved in every sport or social activity. Rather choose one or two for each child … placing as much importance on family time and sitting at the dinner table together, so that they can see the value of family and eating heathy meals together.

Meal planning is vital to instill this healthy habit. This often starts in the grocery store. We can only reach for things that are available to us in the house. Going to the grocery store when we’re not hungry, and stocking our cart with lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables is the key. Especially important is to stay away from sodas and other sugary drinks.

I also find it helpful to mentally plan my meal s for the day so that I have enough healthy snacks on hand so that I don’t become hungry and stop at the fast food place or grab a candy bar at work.

Contrary to popular belief, the food pyramid with the daily allowances is no longer recommended. If you recall, the pyramid was heavy at the bottom with breads and cereals accounting for 6-11 servings a day. Now it is recommended that fruits and vegetables take up half our plate and the remainder is split between protein and grains. Here are some recommendations for meal planning with children from the Web site, www.choosemyplate.gov.

Focus on the meal and each other.

Your child learns by watching you. Children are likely tocopy your table manners, your likes and dislikes, and your willingness to try new foods.

Offer a variety of healthy foods.

Let your child choose how much to eat. Children are more likely to enjoy a food when eating it is their own choice.

Be patient with your child.

Sometimes new foods take time. Give children a taste at first and be patient with them. Offer new foods many times.

Let your children serve themselves.

Teach your children to take small amounts at first. Let them know they can get more if they are still hungry.

This Web site also has many tips on foods to choose from the various categories, recipes, physical activities, and printables to share with children.

Another helpful Web site is www.teachakidtofish.org. This has helpful meal suggestion and recipes as well as suggestions on how we can get involved in our community to promote this message.

Of course, Cook Children’s has a wealth of information. Visit the related links at the end of this blog.

If we make healthy eating a priority and set positive examples for our children, we can help transform their thinking from instant gratification to  long lasting habits for a healthy lifestyle.

Lizy Varughese, M.D.,  joined Cook Childrens Physician Network in Lewisville in 2013. She is married to Dr. Shane Varughese and has two children, Noah and Sarah. Dr. Varughese enjoys photography, cooking, and church activities. Her passion in life is taking care of children and educating families on preventative care and battling childhood obesity.

Related Links

  • Center for Children’s Health
  • Obesity
  • Cook Children’s Outpatient Nutrition Services
  • Outpatient Nutrition Consult and Referral Form
  • Checkup Kitchen
  • Checkup Challenge
  • Cooking With Kids
  • One Formula for a Healthy lifestyle
  • Kids and Food: 10 Tips for Parents
  • MyPlate Food Guide
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