How to encourage your children to make healthier food choices

Cheeseburger, close-up


***Update: My son is now 14 years old and has been eating a gluten-free diet for 2 years. He dropped about 30 lbs and looks fantastic. Plus his skin is so much better and his tummy issues have disappeared. He also has more energy and sleeps better. It might not be a lifestyle for everyone but it has certainly worked for our family.

Genetically, my children are predisposed to obesity. My husband and I are very short and as you know short people do not wear their weight as well as tall people, simply because our weight has no where to go but out.

My oldest son is 12 and loves to eat. And it shows. He is definitely heavier than most of his friends and while I am not overly concerned just yet I do want to guide him to start making healthier food choices, both when he is home and away from home.

While he is involved in many after school sports I am still incorporating some of the following into our daily routine. These are great ways to encourage your child to make healthier food choices:

  •  Eat least one meal together daily, to discourage snacking.
  •  Prepare healthy dishes for the whole family, not just special foods for the overweight child.
  •  Don’t use food as a reward, comfort or punishment.
  • Watch portions. “Clean your plate” is not always the way to go.
  • Eat slowly. It takes almost 20 minutes for the brain to register that the body is full.
  • Encourage water milk instead of high-calorie, sugary drinks.
  •  Get kids to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits each day. It will not be easy, but focus on the colors to make it more fun. Visit for more tips.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free dressings, mayonnaise, and dairy items at home as if they are the full-fat versions. Kids will take your cues. Ask for the same items on the side when eating away-from-home.
  • Take the stairs. When you go shopping, park the car farther away from the store and walk.
  • Limit television, video games or computer time.
  • Replace mayonnaise and cheese on burgers or sandwiches with catsup, mustard or barbecue sauce.
  • Stick with items that are baked, broiled, steamed or poached-not fried.
  • Ask for nutritional information when eating out.
  •  Look beyond the children’s menu, often limited to fried, high-calorie, high-fat foods. Split one healthier adult entrée between two children.
  • Ask for a takeout container and put some of the food in before you eat.
  •  Ask that bread, beverages and tortilla chips be served with the meal, not beforehand.

We can can help our children to reach wellness goals by first making healthy changes at home, then teaching them what to do away from home. Healthy eating does not happen overnight, but our children take cues from us as parents and will learn behaviors over time.

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