Looking at the current state of weight gain in children, we must look inward. In the United States alone, the number of children with obesity has continued to rise over the past two decades, posing immediate health risks.
Food habits start at home. Parents can help children maintain a healthy weight by helping develop healthy eating habits and limiting calorie-rich, low nutrition temptations.
We also need to encourage increased physical activity, reduced screen time, and get adequate sleep. The important goal for overweight children is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Putting a child on a weight reduction diet needs to happen under the guidance of your family healthcare provider.
Many parents are still searching for tips on helping maintain healthy family habits and weight ranges. Maintaining a healthy weight should be easy but young children will throw down on eating and it’s easier to placate rather than deal with eating properly head-on. The first step that experts advise includes food from the nutrition pyramid or Harvard Medical School’s healthy eating plate.
Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.harvard.edu.
Children who have problems gaining weight usually don’t eat much or have a good appetite. In other words, they simply overeat whatever they like which isn’t a healthy food habit. Encouraging regular family eating times also adds to a child’s ability to manage hunger and over or under eating.
Healthy Weight Gain
A lot of parents think that their kids don’t eat well if they are not gaining weight. An underweight child may have several dynamics happening.
If your child is skinny and loves to eat only junk food, then you need to encourage healthier eating along with adding multivitamins as they can be missing out on important nutrients.
Regular tips for healthy weight gain can include:
- Not skipping meals every day
- Consider giving four or five small meals a day, instead of trying to eat three bigger meals
- Encouraging one or two regular healthy snacks every day
- Avoiding low-nutrient or energy-dense foods, such as junk foods with empty calories, including candy, chips, and soft drinks
- Adding high-nutrient, energy-dense foods, which are high in calories such as whole milk, yogurt made with whole milk, peanut butter, etc. based on your child’s biological food tolerances and known allergies
- Avoid drinks with added sugar at mealtime which can reduce the body’s natural hunger signals
- Consulting a registered dietitian for extra help and most importantly, encourage your child to eat when they are most hungry, and to at least eat something, rather than skipping a meal
Circumvent Obesity and Weight Problems
On the other hand, if you’re watching your child struggle with their weight, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless; however, there are plenty of ways you can help your child. Diagnosing weight problems and obesity as early as possible can reduce the risk of developing serious medical conditions with age such as Type II Diabetes.
Understanding how children become overweight in the first place is an important step toward breaking the chain. Causes of weight problems in children may include:
- Busy families cook less at home and eat more restaurant food
- Easy access to high-calorie fast food, soft drinks, and junk food
- Getting a larger proportion of food in a shorter time
- Kids consuming huge amounts of sugar in sweetened drinks or candy
- Spending less time playing outside, and more time watching TV, playing video games, and sitting at the computer or idle
While you may need to make major changes to your kid’s eating habits, changing everything at once usually leads us astray from good intentions. Instead, start by making gradual steps toward healthy eating—like adding a salad to dinner each night or swapping out French fries for vegetables that aren’t fried —rather than one big drastic switch. As small changes become a habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
Ways to Add Healthy Food Choices
Eat the rainbow – Serve and encourage consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as a suggestion that could be red (beets, tomatoes), orange (carrots, squash), yellow (potatoes, bananas), green (lettuce, broccoli) and so on—just like eating a rainbow.
Make breakfast, a priority – Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who skip the first meal.
Avoid hidden sugar – Sugar is also hidden in foods as diverse as bread, canned soups, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, fast food, and ketchup. It’s in everything! So, always check labels and opt for low sugar products, foods that include high-fructose corn syryp or rather use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods.
Limit dining out – And if you must eat out, avoid fast food. Grocery stores these days have healthy on the go options usually right inside the front door for easy access.
When to Talk with Your Pediatrician:
You never have to be embarrassed to ask your pediatrician a question, especially if you’re concerned that your child isn’t gaining weight or overweight appropriately. It’s recommended to seek professional help if your child refuses to eat for a long stretch, such as more than 24 to 48 hours, especially when you can’t discern an underlying reason, like illness.
Since some medications can also interfere with healthy weight gain, please be sure to also discuss the implications of any new medications with your pediatrician.
Being a parent or caregiver to a picky eater is a challenge. We hope this discussion helps prompt you to implement healthy eating at home and start your child off to a healthy start in life that includes healthy eating with the right food and activity choices.
Helpguidewp. “Healthy Eating Home Page.” HelpGuide.org, 16 July 2021, www.helpguide.org/home-pages/healthy-eating.htm
“Tips to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 May 2021, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html