March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Childhood obesity is a complicated problem without a single cause. To help prevent childhood obesity and create healthful eating habits, start simple by encouraging the whole family to get involved.
Break for the Morning Meal
For starters, eat breakfast. It may be your child's most important meal of the day. Breakfast breaks the overnight fast (hence the name), provides necessary carbohydrate to maintain blood sugar levels, primes muscles for the day's work and sends essential nutrients to all cells of the body for growth. Eating breakfast also helps prevent your child's hunger as the morning wears on, potentially curbing overeating later in the day.
Research shows that breakfast eaters have higher school attendance, less tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomachaches in the morning. They concentrate better, solve problems more easily and have better muscle coordination.
Stick to Home
Another way to maintain healthy weight for kids is to limit eating out. Did you know that portion sizes at quick service restaurants have grown throughout the years? Twenty years ago, for example, an order of french fries was about 2 ounces and contained 210 calories, but today's average order of fries is almost 7 ounces with 610 calories. Similarly, a small soft drink was 6.5 ounces with 85 calories, but today's serving is closer to 20 ounces and nearly 250 calories.
One study found that all adolescents eat too many calories at quick service restaurants, but overweight adolescents are especially susceptible to overeating when eating out. Although most restaurants have lower-calorie options and healthy choices, most teens go for the high-calorie burgers, chicken nuggets, French fries and unlimited refills of soft drinks.
Reduce Portion Size
Behavioral research shows that environmental cues — such as large plates and big cups — encourage us to eat and drink more than if plates and cups were smaller, so consider scaling back on plate and cup size for everyone in the family.
Eating frequently can also help keep hunger at bay. Active children may need to eat two or three nutritious snacks in addition to three meals a day. Keeping these frequent meals and snacks at kid-sized portions will keep calories in check. Snacking, like eating frequency, may not be related to obesity. Kids like to snack, and it can be a good way to increase nutrient intake. Just keep the snacks healthy (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy foods) and keep portion sizes small. Remember, snacks should not be meal replacements.