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How can I help my child maintain a healthy weight?

A healthy lifestyle for children begins at home, with the parents introducing them to a proper, balanced diet, as well as setting a good example of frequent and consistent physical activity. Children often copy what their parents do, so choosing fruits and vegetables over sweets and fats can lead to them choosing better when they pick food for themselves. They will also be more inclined to include exercise in their lives if they see their parents making it a priority.

Good health starts with good habits. Do not feel like you need to encourage your son to "go on a diet" or "lose weight"—instead, have your whole family work together to build healthy habits for life. Remember, you and other members of your family are important role models for your child.

Whenever possible, eat healthy family meals together. Instead of having cookies or chips for snacks, choose fresh fruits and vegetables. If you don't want your son to eat something, don't have it around the house. (Trust me—if you hide it, he will find it.) Also, try to limit his exposure to advertising for high-calorie foods that have little nutritional value.

Encourage your son to be active and play sports on a local team with other children his age. Make sure he does not just sit around watching television or playing computer games. Be active together as a family and exercise regularly with him.

Avoid overeating, especially high-calorie foods and don't let him eat while watching television or doing homework. This can cause children to continue snacking even after they are full.

Of course, you are probably already doing some or all of these things, so keep up the good work! Check in with his doctor from time to time, so she can monitor his progress, too.

Eat, Play, and Be Healthy

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Eat, Play, and Be Healthy

"Written by one of the world's top nutritional physicians, "Eat, Play, and Be Healthy" gives scientifically sound and kitchen-tested advice on creating lifelong healthy eating habits. This book is a...
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Focus as a family on healthy habits to maintain a healthy weight including a nutrient dense diet, fun physical activity and decreased television, computer and video game time. A balanced diet is important for adequate growth and development, learning, behaving well and a healthy weight to prevent chronic disease. A child should be offered 3 meals per day and frequent snacks of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or dairy and reduced saturated fat, sodium and sugar in packaged and processed foods. Water should be the primary beverage, with juice limited to about 6 ounces per day. Children begin to have risk factors for heart disease such as plaque in the arteries after two years of age. Fat should not be limited, for example whole milk should be offered before 2 years of age, for adequate brain development.

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

It is important to promote a healthy lifestyle for children that will also help them maintain a healthy weight. A balanced diet (both at home and at school) paired with physical activity are great ways to ensure that a child be at a healthy weight. Some children need more physical activity and closer monitoring of their food intake to reach a healthy body weight. However, calories should not be restricted for children and "weight loss" should not be the main focus. It is important to promote a healthy body image and avoid an onset of disordered eating.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The first step in helping your child maintain a healthy weight is to be a good role model yourself. As a parent it is extremely important to set a good example by eating healthy, drinking a lot of water as opposed to soda or other drinks that are high in sugar and being active. 

Encourage your child to play outside a lot, get active in sports and develop an active lifestyle. Also, do not completely take away sweets and soda but only let them eat them on special occasions. If they look at these foods as a treat as opposed to their normal diet, it will help them maintain a healthy weight.

Katie Mulligan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

I'm glad you said "maintain" a healthy weight because maintaining a healthy weight is much easier to do than to lose weight. 

  • Keep your child active and limit screen time. Limit TV, video games, DS, computer to less than 2 hours daily. Be active with your child, role-modeling physical activity is a great way to teach these healthy habits to your kids. Plan active weekends—take a Frisbee to a park, go for a hike or kayak trip.
  • Bring mostly healthy foods into the house and allow your child to indulge on "treats" when out at parties and other special events. Restricting treat foods completely will make them even more appealing to your child. When you're out, allow them to fill up on whatever they want, but at home do your best to keep 80 percent of the foods healthy.
  • Have family meals. Research shows that kids who eat family meals are more likely to be of a normal weight and are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Have meals with as many family members as possible as often as possible—and no TV during meals!
  • Ban sugar-sweetened, caloric beverages—iced tea, lemonade, sports drinks and juice boxes. Allow kids to have these treats when you’re at a party or special event.
  • Cook at home more and minimize eating out.
  • There are lots more ways too. If you're very concerned about your child's weight, have his or her pediatrician refer you to a pediatric dietitian.
Lynn Grieger
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

It's important that parents realize we are both role models and gatekeepers for our children. When our kids see us enjoying healthy snacks, drinking water when we're thirsty and particpating in fun physical activities, they'll learn to do the same things. Eating meals and snacks with our children is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate healthy eating, and to let them know that eating healthy foods is delicious, fun and expected. Include your kids in both meal planning and meal preparation, and they'll be even more likely to enjoy healthy foods.

Parents are the gatekeepers in that we're the ones who purchase the majority of the groceries. When we stock our refrigerator with delicious fruit, cut-up vegetables and fat-free milk, then these are the healthy foods our kids will eat. We can choose to not keep candy, soda or snack chips in the house, instead reserving them for meals when we eat out. Decide which healthy foods you want your children to eat on a daily basis, and build your grocery list around these foods.

Juliet Zuercher
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

One of the best guidelines for helping children maintain a healthy weight is by providing the security of a predictable and balanced food environment. This means providing enough choice to meet a variety of nutrient needs with enough structure to feel safe. Too often, children are either overly restricted with food or not given enough liberty to eat instinctively according to hunger and fullness. This can lead to serious eating problems and thus impact natural development. One of the best guides is Ellyn Satter's work on feeding healthy children. She describes the division of responsibility this way: the parent is responsible for deciding the what and when the family is eating, the child decides if and how much he will eat. No more "clean your plate club". Even though this takes practice and is much easier said than done, when a parent can relax with this division of responsibility, it leads to healthy kids. By providing enough structure to feel safe and enough freedom to foster a healthy relationship with food, the child then maintains a healthy weight. Another benefit of this relaxed approach is the prevention of eating disorders. Children who grow up in a tense food environment, either at the table or in the food attitude from parents, they are much more likely to develop disordered eating or, worse, a full blown eating disorder. The other key factor to raising a healthy child is pleasurable physical activity. Limit screen time and encourage daily play time for the child. This is critical for not only physical health but emotional well-being. 

Lyn Turton
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Children are excellent at recognizing when they are hungry and when they are full. Never force a child to clear their plate as this can lead to extra calories from overeating. Offer meals which include foods from each food group and encourage them to eat some of each type of food offered. This allows them to eat the variety of nutrients they need but lets them stop eating when they feel full.

Children learn so much from observing others so be a good role model. Eat regular meals yourself; make healthy choices and limit fatty or sugary foods.

Eat together as a family whenever possible. Making mealtimes enjoyable family times will promote a healthy attitude towards eating and gives children the opportunity to be involved with meal preparation and talk about food and nutrition with you.

By the example we set in the way that we ourselves make healthy choices each day, to maintain a healthy weight. Our actions really do speak louder than words. If we are making good choices each day with our nutrition, then our home environment should be filled with healthy food options for meals and snacks on the go for the entire family. If we make physical activity a part of our family lifestyle, our children participate and learn the benefits through the experience. The best way to help our children understand and believe in making health (which includes maintaining a healthy weight) a priority in their life is to make health a priority as a family. 

Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, MD
Pediatrician

Teaching healthy eating habits as a family is the key to helping your child reach and maintain a healthy weight. Pediatrician and childhood obesity expert Joanna Dolgoff, MD, explains how you can give your child the tools to make good choices.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.