In 25 years of teaching, I've noticed more kids tending toward obesity. I'm not talking about chubby kids who'll slim down in puberty, but those who are way overweight and getting fatter. What can we as parents do about it? Growing kids have to eat, right? Yes, but we can control what they eat. Obese kids are typically malnourished, not from eating too little but from eating the wrong things. Here are healthier food switches for kids' favorites.
* Salt: Salt is addictive, particularly for kids. Fast food is loaded with it. The trick with controlling salt isn't to cut it entirely--eating too-bland foods makes salt cravings worse. Wean from salt by adding less to foods. Look for low-sodium varieties of favorite snacks. Control portions by making snack-size servings. Switch from chips to popcorn with a little salt. Don't put a salt shaker on the table. Use salt substitutes--lemon juice, vinegar and herbs.
* Soda pop. I don't normally advocate cutting foods completely, but I do with pop. Pop serves no nutritional function. It dehydrates and it's loaded with calories. To get kids off pop, don't switch to diet soda. That's just as unhealthy. Stop buying pop. Don't make it available. Don't use pop as a reward (don't use any food as a reward). For that carbonated drink craving, make a spritzer with 100 percent fruit juice with soda water. Jazz up plain water with a lemon or lime wedge (citrus is a great fat burner, too). Make flavored water by cutting fruit juice and water.
* Pizza: Choose vegetables instead of meat or extra cheese as toppings. Ask for reduced-fat cheese. Nix the fat-added specialty crusts. Make your own instead of eating take-out. Use whole grain crust. Spray with cooking oil. Top with fresh spinach, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. Use salt-free, sugar-free sauces with vegetables. Meat lovers, use low fat ham or chicken sausage.
* Dips and sauces: Vegetables don't need to be plunged in ranch dip, but if you must have it, make it light. Mix plain lowfat yogurt, garlic, pepper and a little Parmesan cheese. For salads, switch to vinaigrette. Make your own with olive oil, pomegranate vinegar, garlic, lemon juice fresh oregano and rosemary. Use cooking spray instead of butter or oil. Steam foods instead of frying.
* Spreads: Teach kids to measure condiments and use less. Switch to reduced fat mayo and no-transfat butter. Switch from peanut butter to sunflower seed butter (it has the least calories of the nut spreads). Try hummus as a dip or spread.
* Breads: Serve less starch. Base meals around vegetables. Switch from white to brown rice. Serve low-calorie whole grain breads. Use your bread maker and control ingredients. Switch from French fries and fried potatoes to steamed or baked. Try sweet potatoes instead of white. Serve fresh veggie crudités instead starchy snacks.
No nutrition plan is complete without the fitness component. Get kids off the couch and outside playing. Fewer sedentary activities and less screen time mean less mindless snacking.