A decline in physical activity, coupled with eating too much, too often is the simple explanation for the rise in childhood obesity. Prevention is easier than cure, so here are some feeding rules which will help you raise healthy children, for life.
Lesson 1: Parents teach children how to eat for life. If you want your children to eat nutritious food, you need to set a good example. That means no hidden treats, soft drink in the fridge or different food rules for parents - the whole family needs to eat well, including dad!
Lesson 2: Activity is just as important as food intake. If children move for at least an hour each day, not only do they have less time to eat, they are also far less likely to have weight issues. Encourage physical activity -- play outside if you must, even during winter there are fun sports and activities to indulge in.
Lesson 3: There is a time to eat and a time not to. Remember, the body needs at least 2-3 hours in between meals to allow for digestion and to allow the sensations of hunger and fullness to work. At home, try and keep relatively structured meal times so children learn that there are times to eat during the day and times not to. Once small children stop grazing, not only are they far less likely to reject their vegetables at dinner, but their intake of processed, non-nutritious snack foods will also be reduced.
Lesson 4: Food should be eaten at the table, as a family. Studies have shown that children who sit at the table and eat family meals regularly are significantly less likely to have weight issues - with the TV off, of course!
Lesson 5: Carbohydrates should be the best quality possible. Children should be eating low Glycemic carbohydrates where possible such as whole grain bread and wholegrain breakfast cereals such as oats. Remember, it is not that children do not "like" grain bread; it is just that they may prefer something else.
Lesson 6: Children are never going to like vegetables more than other foods Compared to sweet, starchy foods, vegetables have a relatively bland taste which means it is unlikely they will ever be a child's first food of choice. All that matters is that you offer different varieties and if there are one or two varieties they are happy to eat, raw or cooked each and every day, continue on. If they don't eat them, it is ok - just keep offering and don't replace them with other foods such as bread.
Lesson 7: Water is the only drink for children. Soft drinks and juices are all high in sugar with little other nutrition and are not appropriate for children
Lesson 8: Treats need to be included regularly. Complete deprivation leads to food obsession, stealing and over consumption. Include healthy cookies, cakes and pies so the focus is not on not eating certain food but having health versions of them.
Lesson 9: The TV needs to be for movies and educational purposes only Numerous studies have shown that increased screen time (television, computer, video games) is associated with obesity, depression, posture issues, dehydration and neurological disturbances.
Lesson 10: Monitor your child Weight and measure your child every 3 months, this way increases or decreases in weight can be monitored and managed early. Also monitor bowel movements and appetite levels.
Khabir Southwick is available for phone consultations, private consultations in Ojai and Santa Barbara, and for an additional fee available in Ventura County, the Los Angeles area, and the Santa Barbara area by appointment only. Additionally, he is available for health talks and lectures.
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