Helping Your Kids Watch What They Eat

Helping Your Kids Watch What They Eat

Childhood obesity has tripled in children and teens since the 1970s – and quadrupled in teens. This epidemic is leaving many at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer.

One of the best places for nipping this problem in the bud is at home. By having the whole family make healthy choices, you can help your kids meet and maintain healthy weight goals.

Here are ways you can get started.

Watch what you buy
Simple, easy steps can make a difference in children’s lives. Make fruits and veggies part of every meal. Shop together. When you do, you help your kids build healthy habits for life. Another way you can combat obesity is by giving your kids the knowledge to make better decisions.

To help stop obesity, it’s important that parents and caregivers create a healthy environment at home. Studies show what kids eat at home affects what foods they choose to eat at school, along with their overall attitude toward food. Eating a lot of processed foods and drinking sugary drinks at home can lead to unhealthy habits.

One important thing to learn (and teach your kids) is what to look for on nutrition labels when choosing healthier snacks. Here are just a few things to check on food labels:

  • Serving size: One package can have more than one serving
  • Calories:  400 calories or more per serving is high; 100 calories is moderate
  • Nutrients: Pick foods that are lower in fats, cholesterol and sodium. Opt for foods that have more potassium, fiber, vitamins and calcium

Steer your kids away from foods that contain trans fats. These foods boost the production of “bad” cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to show how much trans fats are in prepared foods. Look for this on the label and limit your purchase of these products.

What else should you look for on the label? Look at the percent of daily values for saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Add the numbers together. Values of five percent and less are low. Values of 20 percent and more are high.

Here are some ideas your whole family can embrace for better health.

Get active with your kids
To fight obesity, set easy fitness goals to get you and your family moving. Take a 30-minute walk each day, play tag, dance in your living room or go to the park.

Plan your menus for the week

  • Plan meals ahead of time will to help ensure your family eats healthier. Plus, it saves you time and money at the grocery store.
  • Involve your kids in the planning and cooking.
  • Cut back on sugar! It’s as easy as choosing different drinks (less soda, more water).
  • Sit down and eat together. When you do, your children are more likely to eat more fruits and veggies and less junk foods.

Add color to your table

  • Keep fruits and veggies on the table so your children are more likely to make healthy choices. We all eat more of the foods that are easy to reach.
  • Store cookies on a high shelf. 
  • Move the healthy food to the front of the shelf at eye level.

Know how much to eat

  • The hand is the ideal measuring tool for children, teens and adults.
    • A child-size portion of meat should fit in in his or her palm.
    • A serving of whole-grain carbs, fruit, veggies and yogurt should be about the size of the child’s fist.
    • A serving of cheese is about thumb-size.
    • For occasional munching, snack foods should be a handful.
    • For drinks, use measuring cups to take the guess work out of serving sizes.
    • Use smaller plates, bowls and cups to limit the portions.

Be wary of trans fats

  • When you eat out, ask what fats are used for cooking and in sauces and dressings. Many restaurants now offer trans-fat-free foods.
  • Trade in pastries, muffins, doughnuts, fried and processed foods for whole-grain cereals and breads or fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Replace margarine, butter, lard and hydrogenated oils with canola and olive oil. 
  • Try baking, steaming, grilling or broiling instead of frying.

How do you help your kids eat better at home? Does it help? 

Sources: Obesity, leaving site icon, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021; Nourishing Families, leaving site icon ChopChop Family, 2020; Obesity, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018; Daily Tips to Help Your Family Eat Better, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2017.

Originally published 9/15/2014; Revised 2017, 2021