How do we keep our child’s weight in check amid fast food and growing meal portions?

A recent study by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) shows that 11 per cent of Singapore children suffer from obesity. In an age where fast food abounds, and the portion of meals are getting bigger, how do we ensure that our kids are healthy and not obese? Here are five strategies to adopt.

1. Don’t be too fast to feed
Parents often try to soothe their crying baby with food / feeding comfort, even if all she really wants is a cuddle or take a nap. Pushing food on kids or insisting that they finish meals on their plate when children are not really hungry overrides the body’s primary weight-control mechanisms. If your child wants a snack, distract her with other activities. In fact, try getting your child to be active. Put sports and exercise gears such as rackets and balls in sight as it will motivate children to play. Such activities distract children till mealtimes and you may just find that their hunger “disappears”.

2. Eat healthy
A healthy diet contains minimally processed food. Healthier options or fresh food usually have natural nutrients which are easy on little tummies. Include milk, whole-grain pastas, breads, cereals, vegetables, fruits and legumes in your child’s diet. These foods have a “low glycemic index” – they are metabolised in the body at a slower rate, keeping blood sugar levels more stable so children feel more energetic for longer periods of time. If toddlers are hungry in between meals, offer bite-sized fruits and vegetables, cheese or yoghurt.

3. Get enough sleep
Sleep regulates the hormones that control appetite so ensure children have enough sleep. Newborns up to six months need about 15 hours of sleep; 6 to 12 months old need 14 hours of sleep; kids age one to three need 10-13 hours of sleep and kids age four to nine need 10 to 12 hours.

4. Don’t let him be a picky eater
For many children weight problems start from picky eating. Parents end up caving to the pressure, and buy unhealthy food for children or give up introducing healthy options because children refuse to eat wholesome options. It takes perseverance, so continue to introduce healthy food to your children especially at mealtimes. They will soon open up and grow to like new choices.

5. Count those calories
A 2 to 3-year-old needs about 1,000 calories a day, which means serving sizes should be tablespoons, not platefuls. Kids aged 4 to 8 need 1,300 to 2,000 calories, depending on their age and activity level. Their serving of protein should be about the size of their fist, no matter how old they are. Resist giving your children soda, sweet drinks, sport drinks or even too much juice. These drinks contribute more calories than you expect.

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