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We are constantly hearing information about adults who are overweight or obese, but what about children? Are we making any progress in the area of childhood obesity? What can parents, schools and communities do to truly make an impact?

Luckily, we have good news to report. The CDC states that obesity rates are actually falling for preschoolers in many states. While not every state has shown improvement, and the improvement is small… it is still significant! This is the first time our country has seen a decrease in childhood obesity rates in decades. Between 1980 and 2010, obesity rates for children more than doubled. Furthermore, the problem created by obesity in early childhood exceeds the mere number on a scale. Children and teens who are obese are likely to remain obese as adults. Obese youth are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea as well as an increase in social and psychological problems compared to those children who are not overweight or obese.

In recent years, we have seen several changes in school food and nutrition policies as well as an increased awareness of the importance of physical education classes. Although schools are serving fewer french fries and more fruits and veggies, kids are only at school 6-7 hours a day for 5 days a week. The rest of the time they are at home with their parents and guardians, and a child’s home life plays much more of a role in their lifestyle than anything else. A child’s parent or guardian serves as far more of a powerful role model than any princess or super hero! I encourage you to grab an apple as a snack, toss the football after dinner, and choose water over soda! All of these small, every day behaviors really do make an impact over time. If your child sees you taking these small steps, he or she will be more likely to follow in your footsteps.

Since school is now in full swing, hopefully you and your family have gotten back into a routine with meals, snacks and balancing school-work and leisure time. In my house, it usually takes us a few weeks to really get back into our routine, and I have found this to be a great time to focus on changing some eating habits and getting the kids involved in some of the planning and food preparation. If kids pick out a new fruit at the grocery store or help make the salad for dinner, they are more likely to want to eat it!

I hope you will use some of the ideas I’ve listed below to help plan nutritious meals and snacks. Make sure to think outside of the box and come up with some ideas of your own!

Healthy Food Ideas for Children (and Adults):

Protein

  • Lean turkey or chicken without the skin
  • Thinly sliced ham or roast beef
  • Tuna (light, packed in water)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Low fat cottage cheese
  • Beans
  • Hummus
  • Nuts

Dairy

  • Milk (white or flavored) 1% or skim
  • Yogurt (Greek style for more protein)
  • Cheese

Whole Grains

  • Whole wheat: bread, tortillas, pita, English muffins, waffles
  • Whole grain crackers such as Triscuit
  • Corn tortillas
  • Popcorn
  • Cereals: oatmeal, Wheat Chex, Frosted Mini Wheats

Fruits & Veggies

  • Apple slices
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Berries
  • Melon
  • Baby carrots
  • Snap peas or snow peas
  • Edamame
  • Cucumber slices
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes

Although prevention of obesity would be the most desirable option, small changes in diet and exercise can result in sustainable changes that will last a lifetime.

– Tarie

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