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.
When children are young, parents and other caregivers are responsible for providing an environment that helps them maintain a healthy weight. You can help your child:
- Be a positive role model for healthy eating and activity habits
- Provide a calm, reassuring atmosphere at regular meals and snack times
- Set healthy limits on screen entertainment like television and video games
- Involve the whole family in fun physical activities
- Help children develop a positive body image
- Avoid restrictive diets and excessive exercise regimens.
When it comes to nutrition and fitness, the role of parents is the same no matter the weight of their children. Not all skinny kids have healthy eating habits or active lifestyles. And not all overweight children develop risk factors for diabetes or heart disease.
A healthy weight for kids is about much more than numbers. It is about healthy behaviors, such as enjoying a variety of nutrient-rich foods and a variety of activities for strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity.
Diets Are Not the Answer
Putting children on restrictive diets or forcing them into intense exercise programs can, in many cases, do more harm than good. One three-year study of middle-school kids showed dieters ended up weighing more than non-dieters. They also were more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors like bingeing. Short answer: Do not put your child on a diet, especially without consulting your doctor and a registered dietitian.
Here are simple steps adults can take to help children develop positive habits. These strategies have been shown to promote a healthy weight for kids and adults, too.
- Be Active by Playing Together. For a healthy weight, kids need 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Play with your kids every day. It's fun for them and fun for you too.
- Make Family Mealtimes a Special Time Together. Eating more meals together can make a big difference in your family's health, happiness and finances. Dinners made at home are cheaper than eating out and easier to prepare than you might think.
- Save Fast Food for a Treat. Fast-food meals can be loaded with calories, fat and sugar. Whether you drive-thru or eat inside, keep track of portion sizes and order nutrient-rich options such as low-fat milk and fruit in a kid's meal.
- Enjoy Fruits and Vegetables Together. Serve a rainbow of produce every day. Serve juicy, crunchy, delicious fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned and 100 percent juice—all types of produce contribute to good health.
- Drink Milk with Meals and Water with Snacks. Low-fat dairy products can help kids maintain a healthy weight, build strong bodies and lower blood pressure. Water is always a refreshing and calorie-free choice too.
- Take Televisions and Video Games Out of Bedrooms. Kids who get enough sleep are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television in children's rooms to reduce screen time and promote healthy sleep habits.