ages 2 to 5
Q. Cute—or chubby?
My 3-year-old daughter is very healthy and active but she does have rolls around her thighs and tummy. How do I know if she is too plump?
—Carolyn, Lexington, KY
Connie Evers: It is difficult to gauge just by looking at a preschooler whether she is growing normally or is a bit too chubby. Your daughter’s doctor can plot her height, weight, and head circumference on a standard growth chart that yields a “percentile” result. Height and weight data also can be used to calculate the Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile, which indicates how your daughter’s weight compares with her height. The growth data in her medical record will, over time, help identify potential weight problems.
ages 6 to 8
Q. Dodging the Diets
My six-year old daughter gained a lot of weight this year, outpacing her height. What about a low-calorie diet?
—Lani, Honolulu, HI
Connie Evers: It’s never a good idea to put a child on a restrictive diet. She could miss out on the nutrients she needs for normal growth and development. When children begin dieting at an early age, they often end up heavier as adults. Dieting begins the cycle of restricting food, feeling deprived, and overeating favorite foods. Most importantly, she could adopt the stigma of feeling “fat,” which may interfere with her development of a positive body image. Instead, emphasize eating regular meals, offering healthful foods, and getting the family moving with fun activities.
ages 9 to 12
Helping kids choose
My 12-year-old son has a tendency to gain extra weight. He wants the same foods his friends eat—chips, soda and fast food. How can I help him develop better eating habits?
—Keshawna, Hartford, CT
Connie Evers: Preteens are very concerned with acceptance by their peer group and this influences many of their behavior choices. It is inevitable that your son will want to spend time with his friends and will likely eat some of the same foods that they are choosing. The key is compromise—balancing less-healthy foods with more nutritious ones. For instance, allow your son to eat snacks with his friends a few times a week, but make sure he eats dinner with your family most days. Also, have healthful choices around that will appeal to him and his friends such as low-fat versions of nachos, burritos, pizza and sandwiches, and fruit/yogurt smoothies.
Give your kitchen a nutrition makeover!
When you walk into your kitchen, what are the first foods you see? Are you tempted by snack foods, or are there plenty of nutritious choices at hand? Use a few simple strategies to “remodel” your family’s diet:
- Keep the ingredients for four or five healthful meals in your kitchen. Make a list of staple ingredients for these meals. This exercise will save time at the store, too!
- Set out a big bowl of fruit, visibly display finger sandwiches and low-fat yogurt in the refrigerator, and stock the cupboard with whole-grain crackers and pretzels.
- Tempt hungry kids with nutritious “grab foods” such as cut-up veggies and fruit, baked tortilla chips with bean dip and salsa, or string cheese and whole-grain crackers.
- Limit the availability of beverages such as soda pop and other sweetened beverages. Encourage kids to drink water, 1% or fat-free milk, and 100% fruit juice.
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— Connie Evers