By Tanya Steel, Epicurious.com
Every day I hear about tremendous strides in the fight to combat childhood obesity, but for every pound we lose, we seem to gain two back. Here are five common mistakes parents make on a daily basis with their children's diets and how they can take a few simple steps to ensure their children will live a long healthy life.
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Liquid Lunches, Dinners, and Snacks: The amount of empty calories consumed in the form of sodas, diet or otherwise, and fruit juice, is enormous. One 12-ounce can of Coke is 155 calories, so if your child has two a day, that adds up to almost a quarter of his or her recommended daily calorie intake. Snapple and fruit juices may be natural, but they often contain even more calories than soda. Serve them only water, skim milk, unsweetened teas, and sparkling waters with fruit slices.
Snacking Instead of Meals: Many parents complain that when it's dinnertime, their child says he or she is full and only eats a bit of what is hopefully one of the day's most nutritious meals. Oftentimes, the real culprit is that the child is filled with empty calories and carbs from snacking throughout the day. Snacking can be encouraged between meals, especially for active kids, but should be limited to foods packed with fiber and complex carbs, such as an apple, carrots with hummus, or a handful of nuts. Also, the rule of the house should be no snacks two hours before dinner.
Being the Decision Maker: When you don't include your child in on the decision of what to have for lunch or dinner, some children, especially toddlers and teenagers, might turn it into a power play and refuse to eat. Empower them by presenting two healthy choices as possibilities, so they feel they have a voice in what they are eating. Studies have shown that when children have a hand in deciding what they will eat (and preparing it), they tend to eat more.
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Size Matters: Most adults don't know what portion they should be eating, so when it comes to their kids, they really are in the dark; indeed, some studies suggest that parents serve double the portion of what kids actually need. To learn about recommended calories and portions, the USDA and the American Dietetic Association provide a multitude of informative tools. Generally, preschoolers need about 1,000 calories a day, elementary-school kids need about 1,400 calories, and middle and high-school students, about 1,600 to 2,500 calories a day depending upon activity level and size.
Focusing on the Trees, Not the Forest: What your child eats in a day is more important that having each meal "balanced." So, if you can feed him or her a nutritious breakfast with that day's worth of fruit, a snack that incorporates fresh veggies, and a lunch or dinner with lean protein, you've done your job. As long as they are getting that along with calcium every day, they are eating well. And, if they have a day filled with junk food, just get them back on track the following day. We should teach our kids about moderation and including healthy foods and exercise as a part of every day.
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Photo: CN Digital Studio