Helping Kids Lose Weight: 8 Dos & Don'ts

Childhood obesity is a hot button topic for moms, but helping your kids shape up and slim down is much easier said than done. Many moms out there are wondering what they can do to help their kids shed some pounds without messing with their heads.

The Stir asked weight loss experts to dish out some kid-friendly advice (some of which they say worked wonders on their own children). Here are some top dos and don'ts to set your family on a healthier path.


DON'T have a blind spot about your own kids. "One study has revealed that parents may be in denial when it comes to their kids' weight, as about half of parents with overweight or obese children don't think their kids are too heavy," says Merilee Kern, developer of the "Kids Making Healthy Choices" weight loss app for kids. "This blindness about, and tolerance/acceptance for, their child’s condition is preventing too many parents from taking appropriate, pro-active action to help the child -- and perhaps the family at large -- make imperative lifestyle changes."

DO take advantage of the many healthy options out there today. "We live in an age where food manufacturers are the most health-conscious in history," says Kern. "Take full advantage of these healthy alternatives. It’s simply not an option to choose those refined sugar-loaded gummy bears when dried fruit and trail mix snacks of every sort are a mere aisle or two away." No time to make homemade oatmeal? Go for those instant bags instead: any oatmeal is better than no oatmeal, and it’s certainly better than skipping breakfast or opting for sugar cereals.

DON'T have separate meals for kids and adults. "As a nation, we need to get away from this idea that kids should eat different foods than their parents," warns Anika Christ, senior program manager for Weight Loss at Life Time. "Think about how many families make meals that include something different for the kids at dinner than the rest of the family, and often it’s an unhealthy and highly processed choice, such as chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, etc.

"We also have to remember that kids aren’t the best decision makers when it comes to their health and nutrition, and they are naturally going to prefer to have the high-sugar and high-salt processed foods." So whether you are dining out or just in the grocery store, avoid as many of the "kid-friendly" marketed foods out there as possible. "Believe that kids are the same species as you are, just smaller and younger versions, and that their needs for optimal nutrition are just as important as yours," says Christ.

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DO let your kids call some shots. "Kids are more likely to enjoy the process and embrace change if they are actively involved," says Amy Hendel, author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families. Some ideas: Involve the child in menu planning, food shopping, and food preparation. Let them go online and find light and healthy recipes; look for produce in the market; or read labels and find key words that make a food healthy or not. Last but not least, create lists of different food group options (a protein choice list, a "healthy fat" choice list, a "healthy grain" choice list) and let your child make the choices to feel as if she has some control.

DON'T accommodate tons of "opt outs." "Do not be the parent that becomes a short-order cook," says Christ. "If you consistently let them opt out of the family dinner, you are creating more work and stress for yourself." To avoid this, plan and set the meals for the week and make sure the kids know about them. If your child refuses to eat what's offered for dinner, offer only one second option, like a chef or Caesar salad or scrambled eggs.

DO compromise on occasion for the greater good. "My son will only eat a healthy tuna fish sandwich with low-fat mayonnaise in a wheat pita if it has about four potato chips placed inside the pocket, too," says Kern. "I figure two or three potato chips is a fair concession to make for a wheat pita full of omega-3 fatty acid-packed tuna. With kids, all or nothing doesn't work; be willing to find that middle ground!"

DON'T ask if your family wants a certain veggie with dinner. Make an executive decision and just serve it up! "Knowing that such choices are not an option per se removes the possibility that your family may choose to eat it," says Kern. "Praise the child who enthusiastically eats his or her healthy fare or at least tries it and does well enough. And leverage your kid’s competitive spirit -- offer an eating challenge that he or she simply cannot resist, such as 'I bet you can’t eat all of your peas in the next 10 minutes.' You’ll be surprised how far this will take you."

DO make your child eat the healthy stuff before any "treat" type foods are made available. "Simply put, the child can NOT have even that occasional cupcake if he has not eaten those veggies! End of story," says Kern. Even better, make your dessert healthy, too. Fruit, with a few small tweaks, can satisfy kids' sweet tooth. "Low-fat and low-calorie whipped cream with just a touch of colorful sprinkles atop sliced strawberries or other berries can make children squeal with delight," points out Kern. "Rainbow Jell-O jam-packed with citrus fruit is always a crowd pleaser. Get creative, build the anticipation in advance, and offer it up with as much excitement and reverence as you would a chocolate cake."

What tricks have you employed to help your kids lose weight?

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