If you've watched the news or read the newspaper, you know that the number of overweight children has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of children ages 6-19 who are overweight has tripled since 1980.
Why the alarming trend? Many kids today consume too many calories and get too little exercise, which can result in serious health repercussions.
Some of these children will grow up to be overweight or obese adults with major medical problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.
Your role as a parent is to provide your children with a good foundation in healthy eating so they don't become overweight.
One of the best ways to do this is to set a good example. If your kids see you enjoying nutritious dinners, they'll be likely to repeat your behavior. But if they watch you bypass the broccoli, they'll do the same thing.
So keep these commonsense tips in mind for your health and the health of your children:
Prepare well-balanced meals. When planning family menus, choose from a variety of food groups (including meat, vegetables, fruits and grains) rather than selecting one item heavy on a single food group (like pasta).
For a quick nutritious dinner, fix chicken, pork, beef or fish on the stovetop or indoor grill. Round out the meal with small portions of a green salad, frozen veggies heated in the microwave and rye rolls.
If time is tight, and you don't feel you can get several items on the table, prepare an all-in-one meal like a stir-fry that includes meat, vegetables and rice.
Don't force kids to clean their plates. Children need to learn to trust their instincts and recognize when their stomach is full. Forcing them to eat everything on their plate can train them to eat more than they need.
Instead, place appropriate-size servings of different foods on their plates. If they finish everything and they're still hungry, it's fine to offer second helpings.
Beware of "portion distortion." It can be difficult to recognize normal serving sizes because we've been conditioned to think big. Fast-food restaurants sell super-size meals, while malls, convenience stores and movie theaters offer extra-large soft drinks and huge bags of high-calorie snacks.
When choosing foods for you and your family, remember that one serving of cooked meat weighs 3 ounces and is about the size of a deck of cards—so that half-pound burger is much more than a single serving.
Similarly, one serving equals a 6-ounce glass of 100 percent fruit juice—not a 20-ounce bottle of juice-flavored drink…and 1/2 cup of pasta—not a dinner plate heaped with spaghetti.
Don't skip breakfast. Get yourself and your children off to a good start each day with a healthy breakfast. It will provide the energy each of you need to make it through the morning.
Avoid the sugary toaster pastries and fat-laden doughnuts, and instead choose cold cereals with low-fat milk, whole-grain toast with peanut butter or low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit.
Keep good-for-you snacks on hand. Kids are going to eat what's available, so if your grocery shopping trips yield cookies, chips and other junk food, that's what they'll nibble on.
Instead, keep your pantry and fridge stocked with easy-to-grab snacks that will satisfy their hunger without adding useless calories to their diet.
Place a bowl of fruit in easy reach and pack snack-size resealable plastic bags with raisins, nuts or low-fat granola. Keep a drawer in the fridge filled with hand-held yogurt snacks, sliced or cubed cheese and individual containers of cottage cheese.
Likewise, don't stock up on soda and other sweetened drinks that are filled with empty calories. Instead, keep low-fat milk, calcium-fortified orange juice and a pitcher of water in the fridge for refreshment anytime.
Enjoy dessert. On occasion, make a fruit or dairy dessert a healthy part of your meals. You don't need to offer dessert as a reward at every meal, but you don't need to limit it altogether either. If you do, kids (and other family members) are likely to feel deprived.
Instead, help youngsters appreciate dessert as a once-in-a-while treat, not something they should expect every time they eat their veggies.
Get moving. Physical fitness goes hand-in-hand with eating right. Cut down on TV watching and video games by getting your kids involved in family activities. Rather than send them outside to play, join them! Go on a family bike ride, play catch, walk the dog, splash in the pool, visit the zoo or tackle a hiking trail at a local park.
Encouraging your family to follow a healthy lifestyle will benefit everyone…and lead to healthy kids who grow up to be healthy adults.