One of the main reasons that many of our children are overweight or obese is directly related to what they eat between meals. It has been estimated that the average child in the United States today eats over 30% of his/her total calories each day from snacks. Many of these snacks have little or no nutrition value and most have too many calories.
Whether it is the toddler who is bribed or rewarded with offers of candy and cookies to eat his/her vegetables, or the school-aged child who often eats large quantities of junk food-type snacks between meals, or the teenager whose main diet often consists of fast foods and late night binge-eating, the outcome is the same. What is happening is that many children are consuming more calories than they need. The extra calories are “empty” calories (calories without any nutritional value). If the extra calories consumed are not burned off either by the individual's metabolism, or by physical activity, they will be deposited as fat in the body. As a result, many children becomes overweight or obese and physically unfit.
The following are some examples of popular unhealthy snacks and their caloric values:
- Orange soda (8 oz): 126 calories
- Chocolate popsicle: 106 calories
- Potato chips (1 oz): 158 calories
- Peanut brittle (1 oz): 125 calories
- Coconut cookies (5): 390 calories
- Pecan brownies (2 oz): 224 calories
- Chocolate chip cookies (5): 250 calories
- Ring ding (2 ½ oz): 366 calories
- Fruit drink (8 oz): 110 calories
- Candy coated chocolate candies (1 oz): 130 calories
If your child becomes accustomed to a daily diet of this kind of between-meal, high sugar or fat snacks, it will be very difficult to change his/her unhealthy habits later on.
What can a parent do to change a child’s eating patterns?
The younger the child is, the easier it is to help him/her develop healthy eating patterns. Improving the eating habits of a teenager is much more difficult than a toddler. Nevertheless, it is very important that you do your best no matter what the age of your child.
One easy way to provide a child with a healthy and nutritious diet that does not have an abundance of calories, is to keep healthy choices in your home. This means keeping only minimal amounts of less nutritious foods around such as: soft drinks, cookies, cakes, pastries, potato chips and donuts. Instead of having these types of foods available for snacks, fill your refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and unsweetened fruit juices. If your child is used to having these foods in the house, they will likely be unhappy at first about the change, but don't back down. You may allow your children to have less healthy choices on special occasions, and in limited amounts
Today, childhood obesity is considered to be an epidemic. A child that is overweight or obese is more likely to develop chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Overweight and obesity in children can also contribute to emotional and psychological problems. As a parent, it is your responsibility to keep your children healthy by providing them a healthy environment at home, as well as other opportunities outside the home for healthy activities in which to participate. This includes providing healthy food options, as well as opportunities for them to be active. If your child is already overweight or obese, it is not too late to help him/her achieve a healthy weight. You can begin by simply keeping healthy snacks available between meals. Some healthy snack ideas are listed below:
- Orange slices
- Apple slices
- Seedless grapes
- Carrot sticks
- Pineapple slices
- Banana chunks
- Unsweetened fruit juice
- Fruit juice spritzer (carbonated natural fruit juice)
- Whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter, cottage cheese or low-fat cheese
- Fiber muffins
- Frozen yogurt bars
- Frozen grapes or blueberries
- Ice creams made from real fruit (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc.)
Offering healthy snacks will begin to pave the road towards reaching your goal of raising a healthy, strong and happy child.
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