Worried About a Child’s Weight?

Here's how to "slim down" meals

child on scale

Contributor: Sara Seither, MS, RD, LD

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If your child is overweight and you want to decrease his or her total calorie intake, consider not only what gets eaten at mealtime, but also what gets eaten in between. Parents also need to remember to monitor the fluids children drink.

Before embarking on a reduced-calorie diet, consult your child’s pediatrician to discuss weight trends and any chronic health conditions your child may have. If the pediatrician recommends a reduced-calorie diet, a pediatric dietitian can guide you in planning meals and snacks that will help your child reach a healthy weight.

Six general rules to follow

Here are some general rules we recommend to parents:

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  1. Don’t let kids drink their calories. The No. 1 beverage of choice is water. Making the simple change to water from juice and soda can easily decrease the overall calories in your child’s diet. For example, a child who drinks one 8-ounce glass of juice per day typically takes in 120 calories. Doing without juice will prevent a weight gain of about 1 pound per month.
  2. Keep it colorful. Include at least one serving of whole fruit at every meal, and two servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner (vegetables should occupy half your child’s plate.) The vegetables should be free of added fats, such as butter, cheese, oils, cream sauces and dressings.
  3. Dial up the dairy. Children need three servings of dairy food every day to meet the calcium requirements so important to bone health as they grow. Include one serving of fat-free dairy at each meal — 1 cup of fat-free milk, 1 ounce of fat-free cheese or 1 cup of fat-free yogurt. If your child is having a hard time making the switch to fat-free milk, try adding sugar-free chocolate syrup.
  4. Bake it, broil it or grill it. When you choose meat as the protein source for a child’s meal, baking, broiling and grilling are excellent options. These methods of cooking require no added fat. If your child doesn’t care for meat or wants to try something new, get creative with tofu or beans, such as pinto beans, black beans or kidney beans. These are excellent sources of protein. Servings of protein —whether meat, tofu or beans — should be 3 ounces (the size of your child’s fist).
  5. Fold in some fiber. For a starchy side dish, go with whole-grain options that add fiber, such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or a whole-wheat dinner roll. Better yet, select a starchy side vegetable, such as a sweet potato. The starchy side should occupy no more than one-fourth of your child’s plate. For proper portion control, use one scoop from a standard serving spoon.
  6. Keep snacking simple. Give your child fresh fruits and vegetables alone, without dips. If you choose a fruit cup, select only fruit packed in its own juice. To spark interest in veggies, try using hummus or fat-free dressing as a dip. Don’t give in to a child’s demand for high-calorie snacks. Typically, when children refuse fruits and vegetables, they aren’t really hungry.

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