Food for Thought

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Guiding your child to a healthy weight in a fast food/fake food world
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight has never been harder with an environment that undermines our every move – the seductive food commercials on television, radio, billboards, buses, magazines and at the cinema; plus the super-accessible, affordable fast foods and junk foods on every street corner and mall; plus the supermarkets with shelves literally bursting with super refined high GI and high fat foods. In ‘Food for Thought’ this month, Dr David Ludwig shares his practical and proven strategies for helping kids achieve a healthy weight in a fast food/fake food world. ‘Children need an eating and activity plan that works with their basic biology, promoting weight loss without causing deprivation.’ says David. ‘Parents need age-appropriate strategies to help their children develop healthful habits (about food and activity) without causing conflict.’

Dr David Ludwig

10 steps for raising healthy kids

  1. If you do it, they’ll do it too. Children are primed and ready to follow examples set by others – parents, babysitters, nannies, the day care centre teacher. So the key strategy is that you and those you hire to care for your kids ‘model’ a healthy lifestyle simply by eating well and being physically active in their presence.
  2. Involve your child in decision making. Let them help with planning the week’s meals, preparing food, picking music for dinner, choosing which veggies go with what.
  3. Create a home free from temptations. Stock your shelves with wholesome foods that can be easily prepared. Filling your home with what I call real food creates abundance rather than the sense of deprivation that so often accompanies typical diets. Plus, you’ll be protected from the complaint: ‘There’s nothing to eat.’ You don’t have to give up sweets, but without that half gallon (2 litres) of ice-cream in the freezer a trip to the ice-cream parlour becomes a special treat everyone can enjoy.
  4. Cut back on sedentary activities makes room for real activities. The granddaddy of them all today is screen time – TV, video games, computer and SMS-ing. Aim for a maximum of 2 hours a day screen time (not counting computer-related schoolwork or other work). Why not try a TV Turnoff Week?
  5. Make breakfast a priority. No ifs no buts, it’s a no-brainer. Eating breakfast makes weight loss easier. Skipping it leads to overeating later in the day to make up for the missed calories. Eating breakfast also improves school performance and mood throughout the morning. And a balanced breakfast gets your child well on the way to achieving the day’s nutritional goals all before 8 am.
  6. Take control of the midday meal. Talk to your kids about what they’d like to have in their lunch – sandwiches and fillings, fruit, beverages. If you plan ahead you’ll have the time and ingredients on hand. And allowing your child to buy lunch occasionally from the canteen or cafeteria then becomes a treat.
  7. Sit down to dinner as a family. Dinner provides a great opportunity to turn of the TV, sit down as a family and discuss the events of the day. You’ll be amazed at what you can discover about their world and how much fun you’ll have. Children who eat dinner with their families have a higher quality diet and tend to be thinner than those who don’t.
  8. Slow it down. Eating slowly helps us listen to our appetite and stop when we are just satisfied not overstuffed! Try putting your knife and fork down between bites … eating with chopsticks … making each mouthful last 30 seconds.
  9. Cut back on sugar sweetened soft drinks. Often kids drink soft drinks because they are thirsty, not hungry. The problem is these drinks leave hundred of calories behind. What about juice? Well, although 100% juice has more nutrients than soft drinks, it contains just as many calories and those calories add up fast. Very few kids would eat 10 apples a day, but how easy it is to have two or three cups of juice containing the calories from those 10 apples. The best way to satisfy the body’s need for fluid is beverages without calories: water, selzer water, no-calories flavoured water and tea.
  10. Get active. Forget the ‘E’ word. When it comes to physical activity, children, especially before puberty aren’t mini adults. Metabolically they aren’t capable of sustained endurance activities such as jogging or working out at the gym, mentally they don’t maintain an intense focus on any one activity for long as you have probably noticed. For younger children play is the perfect solution, preferably outdoors in a safe environment. Bikes, roller skates, frisbees, balls. Older children enjoy the challenge of group sports, although some who are very overweight prefer non-competitive activities such as swimming or yoga. And dancing can be a great option for kids of all ages.

– From Ending the Food Fight (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)