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How to Stop Childhood Obesity – Cook at Home
Two-thirds of American adults are overweight and half of them are obese, a frightening statistic. Unfortunately, obesity doesn’t just affect adults, children are now getting in on the act. Already 33% of American children and teens are overweight or obese (defined as weighing at least 10% more than recommended for height and body type), and a new study shows that 20% of American four-year-olds are already obese. The long term effects of this trend are disastrous and include a future of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, increased cancers and sleep apnea. Unless something is done now, our children are headed for a health crisis – a crisis that could be avoided.
So what’s a parent to do? Along with cleaning up junk food and turning off the TV, there’s a simple step parents can take to help their children avoid obesity and its side effects. Prepare meals at home. It’s no coincidence that obesity rates in children and adults began to decline at the same time that we ditched evening meals in favor of late-night fast food and family restaurant visits. Not only are many of these dishes loaded with excess fat, salt, and sugar, but the portions are huge and often lacking in nutritional value, especially if you order from the kids’ menu. Home-cooked meals, even restaurant favorites prepared at home, are healthier options. But cooking dinner at home doesn’t have to be a time-consuming chore. Tasty, nutritious food the whole family will enjoy can often be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Use the following tips to help your kids slim down while keeping their palates happy. The bounty ? These simple steps will also help parents stay in shape or lose weight.
- Portion Control – Serve plates from the kitchen instead of bringing the full meal to the table. Also keep the child’s size in mind, as children should not be given adult-size portions. For young children, 1/3 cup of cooked vegetables and a 2-ounce hamburger (that’s half a quarter pound) are a lot. An older child’s portion should be ½ cup of cooked vegetables and a 3-ounce hamburger.
- Reduce fat, salt and sugar – Even home-cooked meals sometimes contain too much fat, salt and sugar. Eliminate salt when preparing dinner and add it wisely at the table. Buy chicken that hasn’t been injected with saline, saline. Use olive or canola oil for sautéing instead of butter or shortening. Make your own burgers with lean ground beef and/or ground turkey. Read ingredient labels and keep sodium intake to 15% RDA and fat intake to around 20% RDA.
- Bring the veggies – Children who are exposed to a wide variety of vegetables as babies are more likely to happily eat their veggies as they grow. However, a very difficult child calls for a creative parent. Soups, filled with otherwise unwanted ingredients like beans or cabbage are childhood favorites. Chopped carrots or peas can be added to homemade macaroni and cheese or other kid-friendly casseroles. Make your own nutritious pizza – layer a pizza crust with sauce and spinach and top with a small amount of flavorful cheese. Carrots, zucchini and other ingredients can be grated or pureed and added to spaghetti sauce or meatloaf.
- Appeal to the Senses – Serve a variety of colors and textures on each plate. If something looks good, it’s more likely to get eaten! Scramble eggs and cheese, wrap in a tortilla and serve with a green or fruit salad. Quick, easy and nutritious for kids and parents. And do not forget the role of aroma. Preparing a dish that starts with sautéed garlic, onions and peppers, or a dish that includes a pungent herb like rosemary, anise or clove, fills the house with a tantalizing smell that will entice children to eat healthy homemade meals.
- Let the kids help – From the age of three, kids can help set the table while older kids can mix dry ingredients or wash fresh vegetables. Let them help you plan the menu for the week by giving them a choice of two options, i.e. potatoes or rice, green beans or broccoli.
- Teach and model good eating habits – Children who adopt good eating habits are less likely to become overweight or obese adults. Turn off the TV during dinner. Eat together as a family. Studies show that children who sit and eat with their family do better in school, have better relationships with their peers, and most importantly, have better relationships with their parents. Don’t force a child of any age to clean their plate. Encourage children to taste at least one bite of everything on their plate, but don’t force a child to continue eating when they are no longer hungry. Adopt good eating habits by following these tips yourself.
- Watch for empty calories – Americans are now ingesting 25% of their calories from beverages like sodas, coffee drinks, etc. That’s a lot of calories for little to no nutritional value. Offer children water, milk or 100% juice to drink with meals. Sodas, milkshakes and other sugary drinks should be limited to once a week or less. Energy drinks should never be served to children because their high content of sugar, caffeine and other stimulants can lead to kidney and liver damage.
- Choose good snacks – Keep tasty and healthy snacks on hand like bananas, kid’s tangerines, baby carrots and mini rice cakes (without salt). Snacks can also be prepared quickly at home. It only takes 10 minutes to mix homemade muffins or quick breads. Purchased baked goods are usually full of unhealthy hydrogenated fats and contain far more sugar than you would ever use at home.
- Plan a menu – Plan your menu and prevent childhood obesity. Take half an hour each week to decide which meals you will serve. Not only will meal prep take much less time with a menu, but grocery shopping will also become a faster task. Not sure how to plan a menu? Use a simple cookbook that includes weekly menus, subscribe to an online menu service, or enlist the help of a nutrition/wellness coach.
Childhood obesity is a major public health problem in this country. Our children may be the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than their parents due to serious medical problems caused by a preventable disease – obesity. Fortunately, we know how to solve this health crisis; help our children become more active, limit junk food and encourage healthy eating habits – by cooking at home.
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