By: Suzzette Curia, RD, LDN

It is no secret that in the United States, childhood obesity is on the rise.

Roughly 1 in 5 school age children, ages 6 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a fast paced world where fast food is easily accessible,  a parent’s responsibility to offer their children foods that will not only help them grow strong, but keep them healthy long term, becomes more difficult.

Yet offering a healthy balanced diet combined with physical activity seems to be the key to reaching this goal. It also reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes, lowers the risk of heart disease, prevents certain forms of cancer, and even boosts confidence and self-esteem for the child. Who doesn’t want that?

As a mother of two and a certified dietician, I know that creating healthy eating habits can be challenging at first, but with enough time and patience, even small changes can pay huge dividends.

With that in mind let’s focus on seven simple ways to fight childhood obesity:

  1. Include fruits and vegetables in every meal. For a healthy breakfast, you can add pieces of berries to your kiddo’s morning yogurt or whole grain cereal. Are you planning to make pasta? Incorporate any vegetable you may have in your fridge, such as onions, broccoli or peppers.
  2. Stay active. Ensure that your child gets 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days. Bike-riding, walking, or dancing to their favorite music can do the trick. But don’t forget those household chores. Walking the family pet or cleaning up the backyard are simple, yet effective, ways to burn calories. Also, limit their screen time to no more than two hours a day.
  3. Ditch the sodas and canned juices. Offer water with meals. You can add multiple flavors to water by cutting fresh strawberries, oranges, or cucumbers and letting them infuse overnight.
  4. Stay in for dinner. Most restaurants offer oversized portions with excess calories. Your kids can get involved in cooking home meals while incorporating quality time. You can always make it fun as well. Try a taco night with whole grain tortillas, turkey, fresh tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, beans, low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream, and low-fat cheese.
  5. Control serving sizes. Do not completely deny them of their favorite foods. For example, if your child likes chips, a proper serving might only be 10 to 15 chips, rather than the entire bag.
  6. Offer healthy snacks such as a ¼ cup of almonds, a Greek yogurt, a small piece of fresh fruit, a small bag of pretzels, or some carrots with 2 tablespoons of hummus. Are they asking for something sweet? Create your own healthy “fudgesicles.” Combine almond milk, bananas, cocoa powder, and honey in a blender, and then place it into a Popsicle mold and freeze the treat.
  7. If you decide to eat at a restaurant, make smart choices. If the kids are asking for a burger, make them skip the fries. Replace the fries with a side salad, fresh fruit, or baked veggies.

Children learn from their environment. You can influence that environment and be their role model. It is up to you to build a healthy foundation that will serve them long into their future. Involve the entire family and make healthy eating part of your family’s 2019 New Years’ resolutions.

Suzzette Curia, RD, LDN, is a pediatric registered dietitian at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.