Tackle Obesity One Tasty Bite At A Time

As a child, I was an extremely picky eater. I didn’t like different foods touching on my plate; I loved pasta and cheese, and pizza was always my favorite thing to eat. That’s why, when mothers come and tell me the difficulties they encounter when they are trying to encourage their children (and sometimes husbands) to eat healthfully, I completely understand the problems they are facing.

The rates of childhood obesity have more than tripled in the United States since the 1970s. This dramatic increase can be partially attributed to kids becoming increasingly sedentary and spending much of their leisure time on their devices—it also has to do with poor dietary habits, eating foods that are high in calories while low in nutrients, an excessive intake of sugary foods and drinks, as well as taking in more food than a child’s small body requires.

Mothers and fathers can look for ways to pique their kids’ willingness to eat healthy fruits and vegetables; sometimes it could be something as simple as using fresh ingredients and cooking them just enough so that they remain irresistibly tasty. Parents can include veggies in sauces, or cut foods into small bites and offer them in a rice-bowl-type of meal. The key is to offer healthy foods as a normal part of a family meal, without comment, and without pressure.

Regardless of tactic, it is helpful to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals rather than patronizing fast food restaurants or regularly eating out. Turn off digital devices during meals. Move the focus to the pleasure of sitting down together as a family. Rather than quickly gulping our food down, we can set an example by slowing down, encouraging conversation, and savoring our time together.

It is only natural for children to prefer some flavors over others, so parents will need to introduce, and re-introduce, healthy foods. While kids are young, establishing that fruits and vegetables are not only a source of fiber and are rich in micronutrients but they are—most importantly—delicious! Involving our children in the prep/cooking process can stimulate their willingness to try new, healthy options and will teach them useful kitchen skills to boot!

In many parts of the world, sweets do not normally follow a meal, but in our culture, we have become accustomed to ending lunch or dinner with something sweet. Fruits are definitely sweet enough to qualify as a dessert, so while it may seem impossible to escape the excessive amount of added sugar in our diet, encouraging kids to value a piece of fruit as the special treat that it is—rather than reaching for a cupcake—is a positive habit to encourage.

Mary Roach’s book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, includes a line that I often think of and quote to my patients. To para-phrase: “We don’t eat what we like, we like what we eat.” The point that she was making is that we become habituated to what are accustomed to eating, which in turn generates the desire to continue eating those same types of foods. If you haven’t already begun, start working on instilling healthy eating habits with your kids today.