How to Prevent Childhood Obesity: Start in Your Kitchen

The facts are staggering. Childhood obesity is a major problem in America. How is it that a nation that is so obsessed with health and dieting has such a high rate of childhood obesity?

Statistics show that nearly 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese! I have six children. Statistically, 2 of them should be overweight. However, all six are slim and fit! If you were to view the genetics of both sides of our family you would see that Dakotapam’s children are genetically predisposed to being at least a little chubby.

How have we managed to (so far) beat the childhood obesity odds?

  1. I cook from scratch and use real foods. The temptation when trying to control your own weight, or that of your children is to prepare and serve “diet” foods. If you were to peek in my refrigerator and pantry you would be hard pressed to find any reduced fat, or sugar-free artificially sweetened foods. In my experience, full fat foods (in moderation) are more satisfying and closer to their natural state. A more satisfying meal leads to less over-consumption. Also, many reduced fat, fat free and sugar free foods have added extra ingredients (many of which you cannot pronounce) to make up for what is missing. So, in our kitchen I cook with butter, and real cheese, and full fat milk. I also make many of my own sauces, and very rarely use packaged mixes.
  2. I serve more water. When you attempt beginning a diet, the first thing you do is up your water consumption. Proper hydration is essential to our health and water is the perfect liquid. However, the temptation is to give our kids lots of juices and sports drinks and excessive amounts of cow’s milk instead of water. The current AAP guideline is that children ages 1-6 should have no more than 4-6 ounces of juice, and older children should be limited to 8-12 ounces of juice a day. Preference should be given to eating actual fruit over fruit juices. The AAP recommends¬† 2 cups of milk/dairy for children ages 1-7 and 3 cups a day for ages 8-18. In our family our children get enough fruit juice and dairy before dinner, so our dinner beverage is water.
  3. I rethought my fruitbowl. I always have a bowl of fruit available to the kids for snacks. I have found that they appreciate vegetable options as well. Whole, peeled carrots are a treat for my bigger kids, and they also enjoy raw broccoli and cauliflower dipped in some Ranch dressing. Apples are an ideal, portable snack, and my kids learn to eat whole apples from a very young age. Spend some time a few days a week preparing fruits and vegetables for family snacking. The fiber in fruits and vegetables helps fill up little tummies and you are teaching healthy snack strategies.
  4. I got my kids involved in meal planning. My boys know where I store the cookbooks and food magazines and have been known to thumb through them. When they see a new dish that interests them, I make sure to try it out on my next meal plan. My kids are more willing to try new foods if they are involved in the planning process. We also have fun theme food nights, such as different ethnic foods, Superbowl foods, movie themed meals. We also talk about what makes certain foods healthier than others. As a matter of fact, we talk about food a lot; where it comes from, how it is produced, the benefits to our bodies and the like.
  5. I break the rules sometimes. Let your kids know that it is OK to splurge sometimes. My kids look forward to soft drinks with popcorn for our at home movie nights (I am so thankful that some soft drink brands are going back to sweetening with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup). I have a sweet tooth and that comes out at dessert time several times a week! The key is keeping most of your diet healthy, so that the splurges are the exception and not the rule!

So, chime in!¬† How are you preventing childhood obesity in your home? I’d love to hear from you!