What can I do to make sure my young kids don't become overweight?

What can I do to make sure my young kids don't become overweight?

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

1. Be a good role model.
If you're feeding your brood carrot sticks while you're chowing down on chips, good luck getting them on board with healthy eating. Kids do as they see, not as they're told.

2. Commit to developing a fruit- and veggie-friendly palate.
Regularly exposing kids to healthy foods from early childhood helps lay the groundwork for lifelong healthy eating. As soon as it's safe, introduce fruits and veggies, usually at 5 months on up (saving strawberries, pineapple and mango until after the first birthday, since they are the most allergenic). And don't be put off by baby's funny face the first —or 10th time — she tries peas, for instance. Repeat exposure will breed familiarity and even enjoyment. In fact, it may take 20 times or more, but eventually those taste buds will come to tolerate, like and even enjoy green beans, peas and squash! Don't bother with introducing juice, which is high in sugar and calories and, unlike fiber- and nutrient-rich fruits, little else. The 1-year-old and under crowd will do just fine drinking breast milk or formula; ages 1 to 2, whole milk and water; then 2 percent milk and water up until age 5.

With school-aged kids, it's never too late to rewire their taste buds toward healthier fare. A great time to serve up fruits and veggies is after school, when kids are often hungry. Have them create a yummy yogurt-based dip to go along with the fruit and veggies, and encourage them to shop for food with you so they can select the produce they like or want to try. If you have the time, you can even plant a veggie garden together.

3. Take time to play!
Be a role model for an active lifestyle. With a baby or a toddler, this means providing ample opportunities for your child to explore her environment safely every day. Crawl, climb, take a walk, dance, or pretend you're both wild horses. You get the idea. For older kids, play ball with them, and if you can't do that, sign them up for soccer, baseball or dance lessons. Encourage them to ride their bikes, scooters or skateboards. Even throwing a football on your front lawn after dinner each night or shooting hoops by themselves or with friends will do. The goal is one hour of activity every day of the week, or at a minimum three to five days per week.

4. Banish unhealthy ingredients.
Trans fats, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and high-fructose corn syrup are often found in overprocessed foods that lack nutrients. These ingredients also tend to pile on the calories and have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Much better: store-bought items with none of the above, and less than five ingredients total, which tend to make for a healthier food. Preparing foods at home is also another great way to control sugar, sodium and fat content.

5. Serve kid-size portions.
A child's tummy is a whole lot smaller than yours. For a toddler, it's fine to let them self-regulate food intake as long as they are gaining and growing along their appropriate growth curves (as measured regularly by your child's doctor). It's perfectly normal for a toddler to want only a few bites of this, and a little of that. Make sure the offerings are varied and balanced, and give a multivitamin to make up the difference. For ages 3 and up, familiarize yourself with age-appropriate serving sizes. A serving of protein for a preschooler, for instance, is a golf-ball-sized portion of meat/fish/protein.