Achieving Healthy Weights for Kids

An article by the American Dietetic Association reports that there is substantial science supporting kids drinking flavored milk. Simply put, it's better for them to drink chocolate milk than drink no milk at all. Researchers have not found flavored milk drinkers to have higher rates of obesity than non-milk drinkers or even higher energy intakes. This reminded me to do a little refresher on helping your children achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

• First and foremost, be a good role model. Don't expect your child to do anything you can't (or won't) do yourself. Set a good example with eating healthy and exercising regularly. Make sure they see you eating foods you want them to eat and being physically active. Trust me, they're watching.

• Keep an eye on beverages. They should be drinking mostly water, 16-24 ounces of milk (depending on age), and a maybe a little juice (as in 4-6 ounces). Have you ever seen a 4 ounce glass? They're harder to come by these days because they're so small compared to what we normally drink from. I encourage parents to dilute juices with water to help them stretch a little further. Have a kid that doesn't like water? Make it more interesting by adding lemons, limes, or even cucumbers- a little flavor diffusion goes a long way. Minimize sports drinks, soda, and fruit-flavored drinks sweetened with sugar or corn syrup.

• Encourage them to PLAY. Behavior change is important with kids. If they establish healthy habits early on, the gain is immeasurable. With that said, healthy nutrition habits will mean little without the added benefits of exercise. The physical activity they get at school likely isn't enough. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend children get 60 minutes or more daily...and should include different types of exercise. Aerobic activity should comprise the majority of their efforts. A few days per week should also include age-appropriate muscle-strengthening activities like sit-ups and push-ups (note_ this does not mean a formal strength training regimen) and bone-strengthening activities such as jumping rope or running during a game of tag. As with adults, varying activities help target different muscle groups and promote more health benefits than repeating the same activities over and over again.

• Limit Screen Time. Time spent on TV, video games, movies, and computers should all be limited. The goal is less than 2 hours per day (not including homework time, or possibly activity evoking video games.) The more time children are sedentary, even if they meet physical activity requirements, the more likely they are to be overweight.

• Breakfast. You have research, teachers, doctors, and of course dietitians to back you up on this one. Whether you encourage them with the benefit of more energy, doing better in school, or "because I told you so" it doesn't matter as long as you successfully lay the foundation for the most important meal of the day. Think outside the box if they don't like traditional breakfast foods. Who ever said last night's leftovers couldn't be breakfast anyway?

• Portions. Supersizing is not for the little ones. As a general rule, kid's portions are 2/3 of adult serving sizes. For more help with this use the My Pyramid Plan at where you input age, sex, and activity level to generate recommended daily servings of all the food groups.

• Fruit and Vegetable Intake. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is better. More variety, more servings, even second helpings. I always sign off on 3 bananas a day, for example, if it keeps a kid from snacking on something less healthy. Sure bananas have calories, and three bananas can add up, but the risk outweighs the benefit in my opinion.

• Junk Food. You will create a monster if you introduce junk food- anything from French fries to candy- at an early age. There is a reason it tastes better than vegetables, so do your part to show them the good-for-you stuff early and often.

These messages target more of a preventative approach, but not to worry. If your 6-year-old has discovered and adores Cheetos and grape soda, for example, here are a few pointers:

• Talk openly with them. Kids are curious so give them a reason why you want to help them cut back. Explain what it means to be healthy and why it's important to start early- and of course remind them you're doing it because you care. • Emphasize a team effort. You'll make a change too, along with the rest of the family. • Make a deal or use a rewards system. However, food should not be part of the reward! • Start with what they're ready to tackle first. For example, if you want your child to cut back on soda, chips, and after-school cookies, ask them which of the three they'd be most willing to work on first. Once they confess that the chips aren't as important as the cookies then start there. Just like you would for yourself, allow them to gain confidence with an easier behavior change.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto