It’s official — the days have grown shorter and colder, subsequently leading to more time indoors. This means more access to food and couch time. For kids, this also leaves time for extra snacks and TV time galore. Catherine Anthony, registered dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center HealthWorks, says along with these chilly winter months comes rich foods that may be delicious, but not so much nutritious.
“These foods can end up being around the house all season long, providing extra opportunities for choosing these foods for meals or snacks,” says Anthony.
According to Anthony, obesity has increased significantly over the past few years. Recent research shows that the rate of rise in obesity in kids ages 2 – 19 has nearly doubled during the pandemic, which means kids in this age range were gaining weight almost twice as fast as they were from January 2018 – February 2020.
The cause? The study cites that this could be caused by “increased stress, irregular mealtimes, less access to nutritious foods, increased screen time, and fewer opportunities for physical activity (e.g., no recreational sports),” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC8445379).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The prevalence of obesity for children and adolescents aged 2 – 19 years in 2017 – 2020 was 19.7 percent and affected about 14.7 million children and adolescents,” (cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html).
START THEM YOUNG
Introducing kids to healthy foods right from the get-go (aka babyhood) can instill lifelong habits.
“It is very important to introduce your baby to a variety of healthy foods from the beginning,” says Anthony. “Starting with exposures to whole food flavors and textures such as fruits, vegetables, meat, beans, lentils, eggs, fish and whole grains.”
Opting for wholesome foods versus highly processed foods is key to help set the stage for not only healthy habits, but for disease prevention as well, says Anthony.
“Having family meals from the beginning and modeling healthy, balanced eating is also recommended and has shown to have positive effects on the development of children,” she adds.
Also, having healthy foods readily available in the home will be the food that your kids eat. Eating healthy is just plain hard for some families. It is easy to get stuck in a rut and pointing fingers and convincing someone to eat better is easier said than done.
So let’s think realistically about helping our kids eat better, one baby step at a time. Anthony offers some helpful, real ways to get started:
START SMALL – Real change comes from small realistic, sustainable changes that can build on one another. Ex: Aim for one veggie a day rather than committing to having five vegetables per day (when you currently eat none).
ADDING INSTEAD OF TAKING AWAY – People, especially kids, are often resistant when their favorite foods and drinks are taken away. Instead, consider adding something. For example, add a piece of fruit with breakfast and a vegetable with dinner.
INVOLVE YOUR KIDS – Get your kids involved in making healthy changes; give them options as to what you could work on together. For example, try asking, “Would you like to choose a fruit to add to your breakfast?”
“Research shows that involving kids in the planning, preparation, and cooking process can be especially helpful in getting them to try new vegetables,” says Anthony (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24709485).
Kids follow what you do. If you eat better, so will they. Remember it’s about baby steps; now go set your family up for success on their health journey!