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Teaching kids healthy portion sizes and nutrition

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

More is not necessarily better

In our increasing awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic, it can be at once easy and difficult to know where to begin to address it. Sure, we can say that we, generally, should consume less and be active more. But in day-to-day life, that can be hard to put into action, particularly on the intake side of things. Everywhere we look, there is more opportunity to increase our food and calorie intake, and fewer opportunities to be active.

Little girl eating sandwich

For just a few cents more, you get the bigger soda, the additional fries, or the extra something else; you can argue that more for less is cost effective, but that's only in the short-term. The long term cost of all this extra is far higher in terms of health and health risk. Just because you can get more doesn't mean you should get more.

If you do not currently have concerns about your child's weight or activity level, that's great - but you can still act in ways to prevent future issues. If you already have concerns about your child's weight, your actions now can reduce risks and maybe even reverse a risk trend.

Nutrion first

With kids - with all of us, really - eating is more than simple energy for day-to-day life. Kids need nutritious food for optimal growth and development. They need appropriate fuel, not just any fuel. The choices we make for food we buy for and serve to our children should be more about providing for their nutritional needs first, and plain filling them up second.

The food pyramid - far more sophisticated than the simple food groups of yore - provides excellent guidance for the kinds of food the build a nutritionally appropriate diet. It's not just something kids learn about in school - it's a resource for parents. Regularly reviewing the food pyramid can reinforce for the whole family the kind of balanced nutrition that will help make everyone healthier.

Get a refresher here on food pyramid basics.

Ingredient awareness

In addition to thinking actively about healthy food and the food pyramid, become a label reader. Read - and be able to pronounce - all the ingredients in the products you buy. Look for foods that do not contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup, two ingredients that may contribute to overeating and and definitely contribute empty calories.

Portion control

One of the biggest disconnects in current eating has to do with portion control. With so many opportunities for more and bigger sized food items, it's easy to forget that bacon triple cheeseburger is a big portion! It's easily more than a single meal portion. It's just that we've become so accustomed to eating large portions that our perceptions of "normal" are way off. It's time to adjust them down again.

Kids may, at times, need slightly higher portions during growth spurts and the like, but reducing the portion sizes across the board will benefit the whole family. Try reducing everyone's portion for every meal. Try serving these portions on smaller plates and actively slowing down the pace at which your family eats by encouraging conversation at the dinner table.

Balance and moderation

This is not to say you and your child can't enjoy food. The message of balance and moderation - applicable to so many parts of our lives - is beneficial here, too. That bacon triple cheeseburger might be okay as an occasional treat - emphasis on occasional - as might a small sweet treat be okay at the end of a healthy, balanced meal.

Confronting and addressing childhood obesity is a whole-family issue. As parents, we set a tone and send a message about nutrition and balance for out kids. Putting nutrition first, being aware of ingredients, and providing the right portions from breakfast through post-dinner treats is something we can all do.

More on preventing childhood obesity:

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