Counting calories is no fun, especially when you’re doing it on behalf of your child. Before you decide that your child needs to lose weight, though, talk to his doctor. In most cases, say the experts at Baylor College of Medicine, the goal for an overweight child should be keeping his weight the same as he grows taller and more muscular. Whether your child needs to reduce his weight or keep it steady as his body matures, though, the best way to help him is to serve healthy meals in appropriate portions to the entire family.
According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78 percent of successful dieters eat breakfast every day. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more calories but take in less nutrients over the course of the day than children who eat any type of breakfast. Make eating breakfast part of the daily family routine rather than a catch-as-catch-can affair on your way out the door.
Good breakfast choices for weight loss include high-fiber foods, such as ready-to-eat cereal, cooked cereals and bread, along with fruits, vegetables and a dairy product. A bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and half a sliced banana or some strawberries provides a healthy start to your child’s day. For a change, try whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a cup of low-fat yogurt with sliced peaches or apple chunks, or a slice of veggie pizza.
Make packed lunches fun — and portion control less obvious — by packing lunch in Japanese bento boxes. The compartmentalized boxes encourage small portions and a healthy variety of foods presented attractively and creatively. Because the compartments are separated, you can include fruit chunks or salads, such as carrot-and-raisin salad or cole slaw, in your child’s lunch without sending a bunch of little plastic containers. Other choices to fill the compartments include chunks of cheese, rice with beans, pickles or tomato wedges. Add a whole-wheat pita or homemade tortilla chips with hummus for dipping, and you’ll have a lunch that’s the envy of every kid at the table.
Family dinners give you the chance to model healthy food choices and portion sizes for your child. Help her manage portions by serving food restaurant style instead of allowing everyone to fill their own plates at the table. Involving your child in meal planning and preparation gives you opportunities to teach her about nutrition while taking the emphasis off weight loss and putting it on “what your body needs.”
Make whole grains the centerpiece of your dinners, and avoid boredom by expanding your repertoire to include less common dishes, such as couscous, bulghur, polenta and barley. Serve soup and salad as a dinner once in a while to combat the cultural assumption that all meals much include meat, potatoes and a vegetable. When you do serve meat, stick to lean red meats, poultry and fish, and keep portion sizes appropriate.