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Making Healthy Eating Choices: A Family Approach

With so much talk about childhood obesity, it’s always mind boggling how we continue to see so many kids (and adults) spending their days watching video games and eating fast food. But is this really the type of child that wears the sign of “obesity”? Well, not always. We all know that living a sedentary lifestyle and eating fast food isn’t good for us, but what about everyone else? Those who, despite eating healthy, playing sports, and going to gymnastics/dance classes, continue to gain weight.

Kids have it hard, especially as they get into their teenage years, and being overweight can be one more thing that can make it that much harder. We now know that overweight children and adolescents have a greater chance of being overweight, and even obese, adults. We also know that according to Statistics Canada, 29% of adolescents have unhealthy weights (StatsCan, 2007). So the question is, what can we do?

No matter how much we wish for it, there is no simple solution or magic potion. It takes lifestyle modifications from the parents, the child and the rest of the family. It isn’t something that a child or teen can do on their own; their family really needs to be part of that lifestyle change.

If your family is ready to make the effort, then give these few steps a try and see if it makes a difference:

1. Pay Attention to Hunger Cues

We often eat way too much, even if it’s a healthy food. I’m not talking about too much broccoli, but it is easy to eat too much rice and chicken. Start talking at home about when and how you feel hungry. Are you feeling hungry in your stomach? Or your mouth? Did it just taste good? Or do you think that you could eat more vegetables and feel just as satisfied? If the answer is that you want more rice, but not more broccoli, it is typically that you are not really that hungry (in your stomach), but rather it just tasted good and you’d like some more. This is where we need to learn to be more self-aware. This is something that a teenager can work on, but if you have a young child, you need to help them out a little more. For example, how hungry are you on a scale of 1 to 10? Try waiting 10 minutes after the first serving to see if your child is actually still hungry, or if they have just eaten very fast and their brain hasn’t had the time to process this yet.

2. Keep Things Positive

A child or teen didn’t do anything wrong; it’s not their fault. Make this a family change and encourage everyone to make healthy changes. Go out on a family walk after dinner instead of sitting down at the TV or tablet. Get outside on the weekends; go hiking, biking, tobogganing, skating, etc. Make sure that each member of the family is following the same “healthy rules” so that the child does not feel singled out.

3. Get Kids in the Kitchen

Encourage your child/teen to help cook. For example, have them prepare vegetables in interesting ways. Look up recipes together and try and make it for the family. Kids are much more likely to eat when they are involved in the preparation. Make it fun by trying new vegetables in different colours, textures, etc.

4. Don’t Skip Meals or Snacks

When you’re hungry, you eat more! Make sure that there are healthy options available at home and at school. A child or teen who is hungry is much more likely to overeat and actually end up consuming more food in a day. This also disrupts the natural metabolism of the body and can slow down the way we burn our food. Don’t forget your protein and fat; this is what helps to keep us feeling more full for a longer period of time.

Having a child or teenager with weight management issues can be overwhelming. Take a deep breath and see what changes you can incorporate into your family routine and go from there. Each and every change that you make will be beneficial. Never underestimate the power that even one successful change can have on your child, yourself and the whole family.

Carolyn Hay, Registered Dietitian

About Carolyn Hay, Registered Dietitian

Carolyn Hay is a Registered Dietitian, with over 8 years of experience working in Paediatrics at community hospitals including Lakeridge Health Oshawa and Toronto East General. At Toronto East General Hospital, Carolyn has worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit, and the Paediatric inpatient and outpatient clinics. Carolyn has a passion for childhood wellness and strives to teach both parents, children and clinicians ways to optimize nutrition and health. Her patient population includes: premature infants, failure to thrive, obesity, eating disorders, food refusals, and behavioural issues around eating.

Learn more about Carolyn Hay, Registered Dietitian

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