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Will Your Child Be Fat?
Some ways to make sure obesity doesn't become a part of your child's life
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Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity in later childhood and beyond. Not only do compounds in breast milk help regulate body fat and appetite, but breastfed babies take in only as much as they need. For a bottle-fed baby, resist the urge to feed him that last ounce—whether it's formula or expressed breast milk—after he's signaled he's full. Nor should you rush solids. It may be best to wait until 6 months, especially if your baby's heavy to start with.
Infancy is a critical time for new brain-muscle connections. All you need to provide are an unrestricted space, such as a five- by seven-foot rug, where your baby can safely roll over, push and pull up, sit, crawl and play movement games like patty-cake with you. (But don't force extreme positions, such as feet over head.)
At this age, many parents, without realizing it, set the stage for mindless consumption of empty calories. Fruit "drinks" and sugary sodas don't belong on toddler menus; even 100 percent juice should be limited to four to six ounces a day. Avoid starting hard-to-quit habits, like snacking on fast food, eating in front of the TV, or using food to pacify a full but restless child. If your child's hungry between meals, offer healthy snacks: soft, bite-size pieces of fruits and veggies, string cheese, or a tube of low-fat yogurt.
You may need to get home for dinner, but even a reasonable request like dismounting the jungle gym can feel like an ambush to your child if you spring it on him out of the blue.
What to do
Give your child a five-minute and a one-minute warning that something's going to happen, and then stick to it. Look them in the eyes, explain what's going to happen, and get an acknowledgement that they understand. Talking through an action in advance increases the chances of your request being followed.
Practice portion control. Serve one tablespoon per year of age. A 3-year-old's meal might be three tablespoons each of pasta, peas, chicken, and fruit. Does your child want only "white food"? Saying "veggies first, before seconds of pasta," is tempting, but using food as a reward can backfire—she'll like the reward food even more and the have-to-eat food less. Instead, make just enough for one or two toddler-size servings. Offer a variety of healthful choices at every meal. Even if she rejects broccoli now, she might grow to like it later.
Bookmark this: Healthy Kid Tips
Find fun ways to teach your kids about nutrition. Have them use sticker charts to log each time they eat fruits or veggies. Or ask them to make a list of their favorite, not so healthy, treats; then allow them one or two a day in small portions (such as "fun-size" candy bars). Get their input when planning menus and grocery shopping. If you've already let empty calories swamp your child's diet, gradually start to dial it back. Cut sugary cereals, fifty-fifty, with healthful look-alikes.
Bookmark this:Good Food Guide for Kids
By this age, kids should get about an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day, with rest breaks. Your child can now share fully in family outings (hiking, biking, skating) and sample team sports (baseball, soccer) or individual ones (karate, hip-hop, ballet). Less competitively inclined kids may prefer playing sports with friends "just for fun." Now's also the time to rein in the mounting temptations of electronics: TV, DVDs, video games and Internet sites. Strike a deal: one half-hour of activity for each half-hour spent in front of a screen.
—Jessica Snyder Sachs