While it's not appropriate to put our children on a strict low fat diet
, it is prudent to monitor what and how much they are eating. One-third of children in North and South America are considered to be overweight. About half of all children in North and South America are expected to be overweight by 2010 if current trends continue. How can we help our children eat better? We can start by limiting the amount of bad fats and refined sugars in their diet. Here's how:
- Avoid any food that contains trans fats—many packaged cakes and cookies still have them, as well as canned cake frosting, which many kids can eat by the spoonful. Trans fats are easier to identify since new labeling laws came into effect in early 2006. Remember, fast-food chicken and fries are loaded with trans fat, too, so drive by your local fast-food joint, not through it!
- Routinely offer fruits, veggies and whole grain crackers at snack time instead of candy and cookies. For variety and interest, think beyond apples and bananas: slice some kiwifruit or mango; buy a pineapple; make a melon medley; offer blueberries; make fruit kebabs by cutting chunks of fruit and putting them on sticks, and have a low fat yogurt dip to accompany them
- It’s unrealistic to ban cookies and candy completely, so make them an occasional treat, and keep serving sizes small—no king-size bars or bags. Fun-size treats are perfect
- Try baked chips instead of regular chips, or offer pretzels instead, although they can be very salty. Air-popped popcorn—light butter only—is a good choice, but not served by the bucket!
- For lunch at home or school, make whole grain sandwiches (or wraps) with lean cuts of deli meat. Just a slice or two is all children need, not a New York deli-style sandwich that’s hard to bite into. Similarly if cheese is on the sandwich menu, one slice in the sandwich should be enough. Fill it with crunchy veggies or tomatoes if more "depth" is needed. Spread mayo thinly. Reduced fat mayo tastes very good, so there should be no complaints. Mild mustard is another option. Peanut butter sandwiches are actually ok, just limit the amount you spread
- Pack low fat yogurts in your kids’ lunch boxes, and small boxes of low fat milk, or bottles of water, instead of sugary drinks. Always pack at least one fruit offering in your kids' lunches—dried or fresh, and preferably not immersed in syrup.
- Make your own muffins and cookies rather than offering over-sized fat- and sugar-filled bakery muffins or cookies. At least you can control portion sizes and slip in healthier ingredients like oats, shredded carrots, and dried fruit. Mini muffins make a nice lunch box treat
- Bake homemade chicken nuggets made from white-meat chicken dipped in egg white or buttermilk and coated in bread crumbs or trans-fat-free cracker crumbs. Same with fish
- Make your own healthier pizza by using a ready-made or ready-to-roll whole grain crust. Reduce the amount of cheese and meat, and add more veggies and sauce instead. No child needs to eat a whole 12-inch pizza. Monitor portions and offer a green salad instead of extra slices
- Make sweet potato fries or russet fries roasted in a hot oven with a small amount of oil instead of buying fast-food fries or deep-frying your own
- Make your own small lean burgers and slip in some shredded veggies or some mashed beans to the mix, and serve on a whole grain bun
- Try whole grain or omega-3-enriched pastas. My kids don’t notice a difference in taste. Serve with a tomato sauce, with or without veggies, and lightly sprinkle with cheese
- If your kids will eat tuna, see if they will eat canned salmon, an even better source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Serve small baking potatoes with a lean chili filling or mild salsa instead of loading it with cheese, butter and sour cream
- Cook your family's meals with cooking spray or sparing amounts of either olive oil or canola oil instead of butter, shortening or lard
Other Tips for Healthy Kids
- Make sure your children eat breakfast every day—preferably not sugary cereals or jam-filled toaster pastries. Oatmeal or other whole grain cereals without added colors, chocolate or sugar are always a good idea. Offer some fruit and a nutritious drink such as fortified juice or milk
- Limit snacks after dinner, and make any dessert other than a piece of fruit a treat rather than an everyday occurrence
- Ban soda or make it a very occasional treat, and limit the serving size
- Limit computer, TV or videogame time. Send your kids outside to play with a ball or ride their bikes. Find an activity your child enjoys and sign them up for teams or classes—dance, soccer, swimming, basketball, T-ball—anything that requires movement. If you have a preschooler, many communities have toddler-gym classes
- Talk to your children about the importance of good nutrition and healthy living. Explain how excess fat and sugar can make them unfit and ultimately sick
- Lead by example. You owe it to your children