Childhood obesity is reaching record heights across the globe. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 41 million children were obese or overweight as of 2014.
Obesity is an all-too-familiar problem for parents, many of whom are aware of the long-term threat that childhood obesity poses to their sons and daughters. According to Let’s Move!, an initiative launched by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama that’s dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity, obese kids are more likely to become obese as adults than youngsters who maintain healthy weights throughout their childhoods. In addition, obese children may be at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Combatting obesity can start in the kitchen, where parents can set a positive example by making sure the whole family eats healthy. Parents know that encouraging youngsters to forgo fatty foods in favor of healthier fare is not always so easy. But the following tips can help get kids excited about eating healthy, which can help them maintain healthy weights and lower their risk of various ailments.
Invite kids into the kitchen. Kids might be more excited about healthy foods when they play a role in preparing the meals they eat. People who cook often cite the pride they feel when they cook meals that they and their families or guests enjoy. Kids feel the same sense of pride and accomplishment when preparing meals, and that pride may increase the likelihood that they will eat the entire meal, including vegetables and other healthy foods, without complaint.
Reinvent foods kids don’t like. Rare is the child who embraces vegetables. But parents can experiment with vegetables in ways that might make them more attractive to youngsters. For example, rather than serving carrots without sauce or seasoning, serve them with a bowl of hummus that kids can dip their carrots into to add some flavor. Available in various flavors, hummus is a healthy dip that’s high in protein and various vitamins and minerals. Hummus can be high in fat, but that should not discourage parents too much, as much of the fat found in hummus is unsaturated fat that won’t negatively affect kids’ hearts. If hummus does not do the trick, parents can look for other healthy dips, such as those with a Greek yogurt base, which can add flavor to veggies without compromising their nutritional value.
Solicit kids’ input regarding the menu. Much like kids might be more excited about eating meals they prepare, they may also be more likely to embrace healthy diets when their parents solicit their input regarding the weekly meal menu. If kids ask for unhealthy fare like hamburgers or macaroni and cheese, compromise by preparing healthier alternatives, such as turkey burgers or whole grain pasta with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Explain your reasons for preparing healthier alternatives. In addition, don’t be afraid to veer off course every so often and let kids choose a meal that’s not as nutritious as you would like. Straying from healthy fare is only problematic if it becomes routine. But periodic indulgences in pizza and other less nutritional fare should not affect kids’ long-term health.
Make experimenting fun. Parents who love trying new things in the kitchen or when dining out can encourage the same spirit of experimentation in their children. Kids who are focused and enthusiastic about trying new foods may not think twice about how the new foods they’re trying are healthy. Make experimenting with new foods a family affair by alternating who gets to choose the restaurant when ordering takeout or the type of cuisine to cook on nights when the family experiments in the kitchen. Once the choice has been made, choose healthy items and share dishes so kids can try various healthy foods in a single meal.
More information about kids and healthy eating can be found at LetsMove.org.