A child's excess body fat will not melt away like ‘puppy fat' if it has reached overweight or obese levels (to check how your child's weight rates, go to my Children's Weight Issues Part I). This situation needs action NOW, not when they are ‘older', ‘start school' or the ‘weather warms up'.
But take care in your approach. Focusing your plans completely on the child will only serve to single them out and make them feel there is something wrong with them - weight management for children should be a family affair.
Everyone will benefit from eating better and being more physically active. Here's what I hope is sensible and practical advice when planning what steps you need to take:
- children should not be put on strict diets or start counting fat or carbs for fast weight loss
- growing children have high needs for essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals
- your aim wth weight management is to prevent further weight gain, not to strip kilos
- as children grow taller whilst keeping weight the same, they will eventually "grow into" their ideal weight-for-height range.
- but think 12 months or longer - not two weeks - to achieve a change in body shape and BMI
Moving and exercise
- inactivity is one of the main causes of overweight
- time spent on TV and computer games means time not spent being physically active
- overweight children are less likely to be good at sport and more physical effort is required to move and run
I've got a list of suggestions below for ways to be more active
Bad habits to get rid of
- encourage slower rates of eating and limit second helpings
- allow eating only at the table on a plate
- ban snacking in front of the television, where 'packet foods' are nibbled mindlessly for hours. Think of movie popcorn or bags of lollies.
- don't insist they finish everything on their plate - but if they don't, there's no extras half an hour later.
Foods to tuck into
- stick to basic foods like bread, toasted muffins, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals, fruit, yoghurt, milk, cheese, eggs, lean meat, chicken, tuna, salmon and beans (legumes)
- low-fat or light dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, flavoured milk) are safe for kids over two years
- reduce meal and snack size rather than banning entire foods
Don't drink in the kilojoules
- avoid soft drink, energy drinks, sports drinks or cordial - they're easy to overconsume without kids realising they're taking in all those kilojoules (Calories)
- offer water and low-fat milk as your family's main drinks
- use fruit juice only occasionally and dilute down with water; half and half is ideal but even one-third water dilutes down the kilojoules.
Fast food and treats
- fast food and snacks are not 'everyday foods' but 'special occasion foods'
- recognise hidden fat when shopping - avoid single serve snack packs or pre-packaged dips, biscuits or bars
- whilst not the cause of obesity, sugary foods can be a problem for kids trying to lose weight
- avoid fizzy drinks, thick shakes, stick ice-creams, lollies, sweet biscuits and cakes which are low in nutrition, concentrated in kilojoules and not very filling
Kids in the kitchen
- encourage kids to help prepare meals at home so they learn to taste and appreciate good foods
What's to eat?
(Here's my suggested meal plan for an 7-11 year old child who needs to trim down)
Wheat breakfast biscuits or wholegrain cereal or porridge with sprinkle of sugar or honey
Reduced fat milk
Toast with spread or peanut butter
Egg, boiled or poached - if desired 2-3 times a week
Small glass low-fat milk or water
Fresh mandarin, apple or orange
Raisin loaf thinly spread OR 2-4 crispbread or rice cakes with reduced-fat cheese
Water to drink
Sandwich or roll made with wholemeal or high fibre white bread
with spread and chicken, ham, cold meat, tuna, peanut butter or yeast spread and salad
Tub of low-fat yoghurt
Water to drink
Small tin baked bean or tinned spaghetti on a toasted English muffin
Water or milk to drink
Two small chops or one piece of steak, trimmed of fat
Mashed or boiled potato
Peas or beans
Jelly with canned pears or peaches
Water to drink
Small glass low-fat milk
Slice of cheese with toast or crackers
Healthy snacks for kids
Snack-time for kids should not mean junk food time. Basing snacks on the same sorts of foods you would use at main meal times means these snacks become nutritious, contributing valuable vitamins and minerals and not just sugar and fat.
Try these suggestions:
Popcorn (pan-popped not microwave)
Fruit smoothies with low-fat milk
Small tins of baked beans or spaghetti
Low fat yoghurt
Pikelets or scones with jam
Crackers with low fat cheese
Corn on the cob
Noodles (low-fat types not instant)
Toasted English muffins
Fruit smoothies made with low fat milk
For more help for parents, go to Children's weight issues part 3.