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Easy, Healthy Ways to Combat Childhood Obesity

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 18 percent of children in the United States are considered obese. Not only are kids at-risk for battling extra pounds as they age, but obesity is also associated with other conditions, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. UnityPoint Health Dietician, Janelle Hodovic, M.P.H.,R.D., L.D., explains the opportunity parents have to help educate their children on ways to eat healthy in their youth and for years to come.

Snack Foods for Kids

As kids grow, it can seem as though they are constantly hungry, which can make it difficult to keep healthy options stocked in the cupboards or fridge. But, what children grab in between meals can greatly impact maintaining a healthy weight.

“Parents should encourage children to monitor both snacking levels and portion control with physical activity,” Hodovic says. “I see so many teens on their phones while snacking on junk food or drinking specialty coffees when they need to be more active and aware of the choices they’re making for their health. As parents, we need to be mindful of what we’re eating, too, because if our kids see us eating fast foods daily, they’ll pick up those habits.”

Hodovic doesn’t categorize snacks into “good” versus “bad” necessarily, but she does emphasize going as natural as possible.

“As a mom of two boys, I try to encourage fruits and vegetables as much as I can. We enjoy making fruit smoothies together, snacking on string cheese, homemade granola bars, popcorn, and if we are on the go, I like to have organic fruit/vegetable fruit pouches and dried fruit on hand. I try to limit, but not restrict candy, chips and sweets,” Hodovic says.

Picky Eaters

In addition to snacking, getting kids to eat healthy foods at the dinner table can be a challenge, especially if you have a “picky eater.”

“I think this is a common struggle for most parents. My best advice is to keep trying and offering the heathy foods – and get creative!” Hodovic says.

She lists the following tips to make healthy foods more appealing for even the pickiest of eaters:

  1. Get your children involved in grocery shopping and cooking.
  2. Create interest by choosing colorful foods and cutting them into different shapes (Bonus tip: Hodovic uses a spiralizer for fruits and vegetables).
  3. Feed your kids the same foods you eat.
  4. Prepare options that don’t look healthy, like yogurt and fresh fruit popsicles.
  5. Use fun, divided plates.
  6. Make foods more “kid-size,” such as cute tortilla roll-ups.
  7. Theme meals based on the seasons. 
  8. Eat together as a family.

“One other non-traditional tip I’ve tried is using superhero videos to encourage my son to eat healthy. He loves Spiderman®, so I’ve found clips of Spiderman eating vegetables, which makes my son want to eat just like him,” Hodovic says.

Hodovic knows from experience that typical kid-friendly favorites – mac and cheese, hot dogs and chicken nuggets – may still be part of your meal plan. However, she says there are ways to make healthy choices even with these seemly unhealthy options.

“Buy the healthier versions of natural turkey hot dogs and all white meat chicken nuggets. I also try and sneak in vegetables where I can in soup or pasta or on pizza made with whole grain crust. We only buy 100 percent whole wheat bread for grilled cheese or peanut butter toast,” Hodovic says.

If you are concerned about your child’s weight or if he or she is receiving the appropriate nutrition levels, check in with your UnityPoint Health pediatrician or primary care provider.