Eating well and feeling good, family-style

A woman holding a bag of fruit.

It’s well known that childhood obesity is a problem in the U.S. But did you know that by the time they enter kindergarten, 12.4% of American children are already obese, and 14.9% are overweight?

It’s never too early to think about healthy eating.

The Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program is a multidisciplinary clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, dedicated to treating children who are overweight or obese, and those with or at risk for type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to a healthy diet — whether you are making new changes or trying to keep up with a routine — it helps to know where you are going. Having a plan can create the background for staying on track with your healthy goals.

Here are some steps to help keep your family eating well and feeling good.

Step 1: Follow a low-glycemic diet

We often recommend that families adopt a low-glycemic diet, which emphasizes balanced meals and paired snacks, and minimizes juice and sugar-sweetened beverages. A low-glycemic eating plan helps to satisfy appetites by choosing carbohydrates that turn into blood sugar in the body more slowly and combines those slower acting carbohydrates with healthy proteins or fats to make you feel full longer. Some tips for sticking to a low-glycemic diet:

  • Choose an abundance of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats.
  • Introducing new foods to your children can sometimes be challenging. A child might try a new food after it is served to them once or several times.
  • Act as a role model by keeping to the diet yourself and show your children that new, healthy foods can be enjoyable.

Step 2: Plan out the week

From the youngest on up, all family members can be involved in meal and snack decisions. Before you do your weekly shopping, check in with the children to get some ideas for what the meals and snacks will be for the coming week. You, the parent, will make the final decision about the menu. A few tips for making a plan everyone will enjoy:

  • Be realistic about your family’s schedule. Ask yourself, “Are there late day activities? Will cooking time be shorter or longer on certain days? Will I want to prepare enough for leftovers? Will other caregivers be preparing meals?”
  • Try substituting a routine ingredient with a new, healthy food in a recipe. For example, try making Cauliflower Fried Rice (recipe below) as an alternative to traditional fried rice.

Step 3: Shop, prep and store

After you’ve decided your weekly menu, write down the ingredients needed to fill in what you may already have in the cupboard and refrigerator — this is your grocery list. Some tips for making shopping and meal prep easier:

  • Bring the children to the grocery store and let the list be the guide. Shopping together is a good lesson for how to stay with the list and avoid temptations on the shelves. When you hear, “Can we get…,” you might say, “Yes, that’s on the list” or “That isn’t on the list this time, so we’ll leave that in the store.”
  • When you arrive back home, store items for certain meals together so they are easy to find when you need them for a particular recipe. Cut up fresh vegetables and meats right away that you’ll be using later in the week, and store them in the fridge or freezer for when you need them.
  • Pre-portion snack items to be all ready for snack time.

Maintaining a healthy dietary plan may seem like a lot to keep track of at first. With practice, you will see that planning, shopping, prepping and cooking become automatic. Do things get off track sometimes? Of course! But over time, your family will develop a routine that works for your schedules and you will even discover that your plan can save you stress and money.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program.

About the bloggers: Abigail Seibert is a psychologist with the OWL Program, working with children and families to help create solutions toward successful outcomes. Sharon Weston is a registered dietitian in the OWL Program, working with a variety of patients to encourage creative and practical solutions to optimize nutrition.

Recipe for Cauliflower Fried Rice

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

½ tsp grated fresh ginger

1 (12-ounce) package Green Giant Riced Cauliflower Medley (sold in frozen section in grocery store)

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 egg, lightly beaten and scrambled

Directions:

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet and cook garlic and ginger over medium heat 1 minute. Add riced cauliflower medley and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Stir in soy sauce and cook 1 minute. Stir in egg until well cooked. For a quick main dish, add 2 cups of cut up chicken, beef, pork or shrimp.

Recipe adapted from www.greengiant.com/recipes