According to Dr. Chad Hayes, author of the pediatrics and parenting blog Chad Hayes M.D. and pediatric resident physician in South Carolina, a few small changes are often all that’s needed, particularly if your child is still growing. Most overweight kids don’t need to shed pounds; rather, if they can maintain their current weight as they grow, things will balance out on their own.
Dr. Hayes reminds parents to focus on kids’ health, not on the numbers on the scale or kids’ appearance. He also offers parents the following four tips to help their kids attain, and maintain, a healthy weight:
1) Chew your calories. In other words, offer only calorie-free beverages. Juices, a common part of children’s diets, are filled with sugary, mostly empty calories and don’t curb kids’ appetites. The calories from just one serving of a sweetened beverage per day (juice, Gatorade, sweet tea, etc.) are enough to add up to a weight gain of 10 pounds per year. Hayes believes that once children are old enough to obtain adequate nutrition from solid foods, the only beverage they need is water. Sound boring? We suggest sparkling water. Or try keeping a pitcher of water filled with lemon or cucumber slices or mint leaves in the refrigerator for variety. Remember that unsweetened iced tea is calorie-free, too (although most types contain caffeine, which should be used in moderation and only for older children), and many fruit-flavored teas are available.
2) Stop bringing junk into the house. Suburban parents, we’re talking especially to you, here. Many kids in New York City can pick up their own snacks because of the freedom and autonomy offered by a pedestrian-dominated city, but the average suburban family has to drive to obtain groceries. That means parents have almost total control over whether their kids have access healthful foods or junky snacks. “If it’s not there,” says Hayes sensibly, “they won’t eat it.” Offer low-fat string cheese, fresh or dried fruit, sliced vegetables, air-popped popcorn, or raw nut mixes instead of chips and cookies (and don’t forget to keep an eye on kids’ portions).
3) Eat from farms. Nutrition labels can be confusing, but luckily the best foods for you tend not to have labels at all. Pick up foods that don’t come in packages, like fruits and vegetables. Hayes suggests navigating the grocery store strategically by shopping only around the perimeter, where the produce, butcher, and dairy sections tend to be located. The center aisles are home to processed food and should be avoided, especially when one shops with children who may beg for the things they see there.