Childhood obesity has taken center stage for many childhood health organizations. As many as 33 percent of children under the age of 18 are obese, reports the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Such statistics are not referring to children that are a few pounds overweight. By definition, a child is obese if he weighs 10 percent more than he should.

To further worry parents about childhood weight gain is the fact that many obese children will live their lives as obese adults and suffer the resulting health consequences. At the same time, many families find it difficult to fit making home cooked meals and daily exercise into their already busy schedule. However, raising kids that make healthy food choices doesn’t have to impose on your busy family life. Sometimes, just small daily decisions can make a huge difference in preventing obesity in your child.

No Soda

Soda drinks do not have any nutritional value and are loaded with sugar and calories that only serve to put on the pounds. Children do not need soda, so just do not give it ever. Offer water, milk, and sometimes 100 percent juice instead.

Fruits and Vegetables with Every MealBest diabetes dietCredit: Flickr: LollyKnit

Include at least one fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack, from breakfast to dinner. This not only helps make the meals you feed your child more balanced, it instills a healthy habit of always have fruits and vegetables on the plate. It’s quick and easy to keep bananas, baby carrots, strawberries, and apples on hand to offer with each meal. Keep some frozen peas and carrots for the times you run out of fresh produce. There’s no need to even cook the frozen peas and carrots. Just open the bag and pour some onto the plate. Many kids love having a “treat” of popsicle peas and carrots.

Eliminate the “Clean Your Plate” Rule

Making kids eat everything on their plate, or insisting that they take just one more bite, will only promote unhealthy eating habits. Children naturally know when they are hungry and when they are full. Teaching children to ignore feeling full can lead to overeating and obesity. So if your child takes one bite and does not want any more dinner, then let him be excused from the table. Yes, he probably will be hungry again in an hour. It is normal for children, who have smaller stomachs than adults, to want to eat several small meals throughout the day. You can always save the uneaten dinner for later when he is hungry.

This also applies to the “eat all your dinner or no desert” rule. Again, such rules only encourage overeating. If you do have desert planned, but do not want that to be the only thing your child eats for dinner, try an “eat your vegetables and you can have desert” rule. It’s hard to eat too many vegetables.

Keep Healthy Snacks Within Reach

It is time consuming to constantly make meals and snacks fBest food for DiabeticsCredit: Flickr: IanBuchananor young kids who graze throughout the day. This is probably why many parents find themselves telling their kids to eat everything on their plate, because they don’t want to fix yet another meal an hour later. Encouraging your kids to listen to their bodies in regards to eating doesn’t have to mean that you are constantly catering to them. Give even your young kids some responsibility in making their own healthy snacks by only putting healthy foods within reach. Keep a can of nuts, whole grain bread, and apples on the kitchen counter. In the refrigerator put baby carrots in the lower produce bin and string cheese, yogurt, and uneaten lunches and dinners on the lower shelves. This way when your child claims to be starving, she can make her own snack with only the healthy choices available to her.

Pack Snacks

If you are taking a long road trip or spending the day running errands, your child will likely get hungry much sooner than you. To keep yourself from taking the easy drive-thru route, pack some healthy snacks and a water bottle to take with you.

Turn on Some Music

According to, “Kids who watch (television) more than 4 hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less.” Although the TV and video games can give parents a much-needed break, parking kids in front of the TV or video games without limits is just not healthy. Set limits and turn off the TV and video games when the time is up. Then turn on some loud lively music and get your kids dancing and moving. With music on, you are not going to want the TV on.

Let Your Kids Get Bored

Now that you’ve turned off the TV and video games, it’s almost a guarantee that you are soon to hear “but mom, I’m bored!” And that’s OK. Boredom sparks creativity and activity. Don’t give in to turning on the TV or being the entertainment for your kids. It’s OK to tell your children to go find something to do and leave it at that. When kids are bored is when forts are made, new sports games are invented, trees are climbed, and the imagination takes over.

Be Active with Your Childrenstop childhood obesityCredit: Flickr: Chiot's Run

Make being active a normal part of the entire family’s life. You may not have time to go to the gym every day, enroll your child in sports that take up every weekend, or have the desire to get up at 5 a.m. to go jogging, but you can still choose to have an active family. Take walks after dinner, explore nature preserves on the weekend, try camping, go swimming at the local pool or lake, keep balls and other active toys in the backyard, make a plan to visit one new park each week, or go bike riding with the kids. Regular exercise is necessary for keeping kids healthy, but doesn’t require huge blocks of time every day. Just make backyard playtime, trips to the park, or walks and bike rides around the block a part of the day. Then save some weekends for more active adventures.

Spend Time with Your Kids

The cause of obesity is not always as simple as just eating too much and not exercising. Problems at school, with family at home, low self-esteem, and depression can also lead to poor eating habits. Make the time to eat dinner as a family, have family games nights, and schedule activities that allow you to just hang out with your child and listen to him. Taking the time to connect with your child will allow you to better help your child through difficult times. Offering support, advice, or just being there to listen gives your child a way to work through problems without relying on food. You’ll also better know your child and be able to recognize if something more serious is going on that needs the attention of a medical professional.

Yearly Doctor Appointments

There are medical conditions, such as thyroid problems, that can make weight gain something that is out of a parent’s control. Do not skip your child’s yearly pediatrician health exam. This is a time to discuss any concerns you may have with your pediatrician about your child’s overall health and to catch health problems you may not know about.

One cause of the recent spike in childhood obesity is certainly our much busier lifestyle. Often both parents work and find grabbing fast food is quick, easy, and cheap. However, such habits will stay with your child for a lifetime. Teaching children to be healthy starts at home and shouldn’t be given a low priority when life gets too busy. Work some of these tips into your daily life and you will be giving your child healthy habits that last a lifetime.

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