Anyone who reads this blog for any length of time knows that nutrition, especially children’s’ nutrition is a subject near and dear to my heart. As the mom of six, I take my role of shaping my children’s’ futures very seriously. Not only am I responsible for their moral and emotional well being, I am responsible for what sort of shape they will be in the future! Really I am!
I’ve battled my weight for most of my adult life. While most would look at me and not call me obese, according to weight charts, I am. I’m sure numerous pregnancies have added to my weight, though pregnancy and lactating seem to be the time periods in which my weight is well managed, and I even LOSE a little weight, probably because I am much more conscious of my intake.
If you look at my sons, you would probably think me silly to worry about obesity for any of them later in life. They are all quite slim, and one is even on the downright skinny side. To look at them you would think, “wow, they have some good skinny genes in that family”. But, if you were to look at the family tree, you would see that on both sides of the family there is a history of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, joint problems, and diabetes. NOT such a great legacy to pass down.
So, is there a way to fight genetics? Thankfully, yes. Many of the above mentioned problems are linked almost directly to nutrition. Almost all of those diseases are TOTALLY preventable! What better gift and legacy can I leave to my children.
1. Breastfeed for as long as you can. It has been a long known fact that formula fed babies tend to be heavier than breastfed infants because they consume up to 20% more calories. Nursing babies stop eating when full, while formula fed babies are often encouraged to finish a bottle, even when they are ready to stop eating. Babies who begin solid foods before 4 months often tend to weigh more. Follow your doctor’s advice and breastfeed for at least a year and delay solids for 6 months.
2. Make lifestyle changes as a family.
3. Stock up on fruits and vegetables. I keep lots of precut carrots on hand, my kids eat them like candy. We also tend to go through about 10 pounds of apples a week when they are home for the summer. I probably make at least one extra trip to the store a week to get more fruits and vegetables, but I consider this an investment in their future health and not an inconvenience or expense. Snacks in our house are fruits and veggies… period.
4. Don’t Be too Fast to Feed this applies to babies as well as older kids. As moms, we instinctually go to feed our babies every time that they fuss, but often fussiness is not tied to hunger. When I know that my kids have been well fed and start rooting around my kitchen for more food, I blast the inevitable culprit… boredom! Once my kids have something constructive to do, they forget their imaginary hunger and eat a hearty dinner an hour later! Also, thirst often masquerades as hunger. I usually ask my boys to drink a glass of water and wait five minutes before asking for another snack. The water often does the trick. It works for me too!
5. Add more whole grains. Not only are the whole grains full of great nutrients and fiber, they digest more slowly, keeping kids fuller for longer and they help stabilize blood sugar. I am known to sneak wheat germ into any batter I can. I mix whole grain pasta, half and half with white and have almost completely switched to brown rice… the only complaints come from the 13 year old!
6. Make bedtime a priority. Kids need way more sleep than they think they do. They may even need more sleep than you think that they do! Sleep helps regulate the hormones that control appetite, so a lack of sleep can actually lead to obesity.
7. Dethrone your picky eater. In our home dinner always includes two choices, take it, or leave it. I am not a cruel tyrant. I take individual tastes into account. I’ve been known to leave sauces of off meats and serve stir fries beside rice instead of on top of. Each son has something that they remove from their salad. This however is not the picky eater I speak of. It is the picky eater who refuses anything but chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, and a harried mother, who has enough on her hands obliges. This, however, leads to a vicious cycle in which Jr. now refuses to try anything new, and it is difficult to even go to the Smith home for dinner without a lunch pail for Junior.
This is NOT a behavior issue. This is a HEALTH issue. Our bodies require numerous nutrients that are metabolized best when gotten from foods, not gummy vitamins. Healthy eating habits when young build up to healthy habits as adults. I come from the old school of “no child will starve herself”. My children have been known to refuse her dinner. I’ve silently obliged. I’ve also pointed out that evening snacks are now off limits, though the dinner plate may be reheated. Otherwise, Junior eats a hearty breakfast the next day. I do not, however, recycle that same dinner dish for the next four meals. That is cruel. Each meal starts anew. I’m not a harpie, just a concerned mother!
8. Eat as a family. Not only does eating together serve as good modeling for nutrition, it is just good practice!
9. Know what 1,000 calories looks like. A 2 or 3 year old needs 1,000 calories a day. Serving sizes should be in teaspoonfuls. Kids 4-8 need 1,800 to 2,000 calories depending on activity level. Protein servings should always be the size of their fist.
10. Rethink drinks. Beverages in our home include two cups of milk per kid, and water. We serve whole milk here, because I am trying to put some healthy weight on two of my kids, and we drink milk in moderation. We do serve the occasional glass of orange juice when I make “fancy” breakfasts on the weekends, But juices, sports drinks and teas can replace the calories that kids should be getting from whole foods. Now, when we are on vacation, or out at a restaurant, I do allow my kids to drink soda. I try not to make certain foods forbidden fruits, as kids tend to crave them all the more. Which leads me to:
11. Make your goal moderation, Not Deprivation. We try to keep things healthy, but at the same time, we are not going to skip The World’s Best Donuts when we visit Grand Marais, and if I am ever in a city with a Baskin Robbins, you know that my boys are going to enjoy what I consider the world’s best ice cream!