Can’t remember the last time your family ate dinner together around the kitchen table? Is the TV a guest at every meal? Do you let your kids skip breakfast? Do you insist that everyone clean their plate? These are just a few of the reasons children struggle with overeating and weight gain today. It’s within your power to make easy lifestyle changes for the health of your family.
Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in this country; therefore it is something that primary care pediatricians encounter daily in the clinic. A discussion about age-appropriate nutrition and lifestyle wellness affects every one of every age – newborn through adulthood.
Washington University pediatric specialist, Kristine Williams, MD, MPH, says “As pediatricians, we are on the frontline for identifying children and adolescents at risk for obesity. Since nutrition is a topic that individuals take personally, there is often resistance to change. Although medical and nutritional professionals can educate and encourage, the motivation to make changes in eating habits and physical activity must come from within the family.”
Courtney Freese Andrus is a physician assistant (PA) and registered dietitian in Dr. Williams’ practice – University Pediatric Associates. Courtney explains, “When we have a pediatric patient who is overweight (between the 85-95 percentile on the BMI growth chart) or obese (>95 percentile on the BMI growth chart), it is important for the patient and family to recognize the medical complications associated with this.
It is our duty as pediatric primary care providers to educate families about the importance of offering a variety of foods to our children in age-appropriate portions. We encourage our families to involve their children in daily physical activity.”
Dr. Williams and Courtney offer these tips for eating healthy:
• Eat meals as a family, around a table, away from the television and without electronics.
• Eat breakfast every day.
• Eat slowly: It takes approximately 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that it is full.
• Don’t force kids to clean their plate -- if they are full, let them stop eating.
• Keep healthy snacks available and easy to grab for kids: keep fresh cut-up fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, yogurt cups, low fat popcorn, pretzels on a shelf in the refrigerator and pantry that is at a level so that children can easily reach it (keeping healthy foods in clear containers makes them more likely to be chosen).
• Drink water, not juice.
• Get kids involved in the kitchen: Even as toddlers, kids can help stir or arrange food on trays. Kids are much more likely to try new foods if they helped in the cooking/food preparation.
• Makes foods fun for kids to eat: Make a palm tree out of a banana and orange slices, use cookie cutters to make sandwiches into fun shapes, use colorful containers with different compartments for school lunches (kids don’t like their food to touch).
• Portion out the snacks -- do not eat out of bags or containers.
• Stay away from processed foods and fast food meals. Meals prepared in the home tend to include more fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Enjoy your treats away from home. Instead of keeping ice cream in the freezer, make a family outing to walk and get the special treat. You will feel less tempted to over-indulge if you do not have the treat in the house.
• Let your children be involved in grocery shopping to help choose healthy snacks.
• Get the whole family involved in extracurricular and physical activities. Take a walk, go on a bike ride, plant a vegetable garden.
Don’t forget to be a good role model. Children should see parents eating a wide variety of healthy foods. Focus on setting a good example, not what your kids are eating!
Dr. Williams adds, “Remember, the parent is responsible for what food to serve, when and where to serve it. The child is responsible for whether to eat the food and how much to eat. This division of responsibility is the cornerstone of good nutritional habits that will last a lifetime.”
-- website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for kid-friendly recipes, cooking demonstrations and tips
-- from the American Academy of Pediatrics, for age-specific information about growth and development
Stlouischildrens.org – Fun with Food: Healthy Snacks for Kids
Dr. Williams sees patients at University Pediatric Associates, now located in the Children’s Specialty Care Center, 13001 N. Outer 40 Road, Suite 310.
To make an appointment, please call 314-454-6400.