Instead of simply labeling foods "good" or "bad," nutritionists suggest some different tactics to encourage healthy eating.
"Labels can backfire," says Tamara Lewis, MD, Intermountain Healthcare director of Community Health. "Unfortunately, some of the most well-meaning practices — such as restricting certain foods or focusing only on body weight — can end up being harmful. They might actually promote the behavior or poor self-image they're trying to prevent."
With studies estimating that about one in four Utah children are overweight and nearly 10 percent of all Utah kids classified as obese, the state is facing a critical health issue.
"We believe the most productive and effective way to approach the crisis of childhood obesity is for families to support each other and encourage good nutrition and increased activity for every member of the family," says Dr. Lewis. As part of LiVe, Intermountain Healthcare's public service campaign to get Utah's children to be more physically active and eat healthier, she offers these tips to encourage a balanced, manageable approach to eating:
- It's more productive to teach kids that there are some foods that are more desirable than others than to say cookies or fast foods are bad and vegetables are good. For example, water or low-fat milk is a more desirable choice than soda when you're choosing a beverage. Fig bars and gingersnaps are more desirable than big chocolate chip cookies.
- Don't reward children for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats you wouldn't normally give them. It's better to come up other solutions to modify behavior. Think about rewards like a new basketball, or a pair of skates, a visit to a favorite playground, or a copy of the latest skateboarding magazine.
- Drop out of the clean-plate club. Be aware that kids have their own hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they're full. If kids are satisfied, don't make them continue eating. You can reinforce the idea that they should eat only when they're hungry.
- It matters what we eat—but it also matters when and where. Try to sit down around the table to eat, with the TV turned off and distractions at a minimum. The more time we take with our food, the more aware we are of what we're eating, the more we will enjoy foods that are desirable—from a flavor and a health perspective.
- Plan for snacks and serve them in reasonable portions. In fact, let the kids get involved in choosing snacks they like at the store. You can give them options such as peanut butter (without partially hydrogenated oil) and graham crackers; carrots and celery (already cut up) with dip; the makings for fruit smoothies; and fresh fruit and string cheese, along with the 'once in a while' items such as chips. If your kids are old enough to understand, show them how to read food labels and to avoid items that list partially hydrogenated oil or high amounts of saturated fat.
- If your child comes home to an empty house, your best strategy for encouraging healthy snacking is to leave something healthy on the kitchen counter or ready-to-eat in the refrigerator. A whole grain muffin or a plastic bag of trail mix and an apple are hard to resist for an after-school energy boost.
Parents and teens can find more expert advice on diet, activity and attitudes about weight management at IntermountainLiVe.org.