How to help kids follow a healthy diet even over holidays

This is a reprint of one of the more popular blogs I posted last year. It’s adapted from an AP story on how we, as parents, can help our children with more healthful nutrition during the holidays. I also have a ton of tips in my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat which in on sale in both hardback and softcover at my DrWalt.com book store. Better yet, they’re autographed:

SuperSized Kids - .161 MB JPEG copy

Many parents are trying to figure out how to have a healthier holiday without depriving their kids of holiday treats. About a third of American kids are overweight or obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Studies show Americans gain about a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s; people who are overweight or obese are at risk of gaining five pounds, said Dr. Susan Z. Yanovski, an obesity expert at the National Institutes of Health. She said the weight gain is slight, but it accumulates over time.

During the winter holidays many children are “indulging in their favorite foods and sitting around with nothing to do,” said Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician and author of the forthcoming Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right: The Food Solution That Lets Kids Be Kids.

“Then there’s the fact that kids realize it’s the holiday season,” she said. “‘I deserve to indulge. How come everyone else is indulging?’ They start to feel resentful and entitled.”

Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said some of his patients gain five to seven pounds for that very reason. They see the holidays as a time to unwind and treat themselves. Some aren’t even thinking about their weight, said Dolgoff, promising to get back on track when school starts.

“If they say, ‘I’m going to start in the new year,’ they have given themselves free rein to eat anything and everything in sight,” she said. “That’s unfortunate. They wind up gaining more.”

Children face a greater challenge when it comes to holiday eating than adults, said experts. They have less impulse control — they see tempting sweets and want them without thinking of the consequences, said Rao. Many are unsure which items are healthy and what an appropriate portion size is.

Tracie Brosius, 46, of Greensburg, Pa., said she tries to keep the goodies in her house to a minimum. Her 17-year-old daughter, Torie Washington, is down 22 pounds since enrolling in Dr. Rao’s program 1 1/2 years ago.

She said last Christmas Torie ate whatever she wanted, especially pizzelles — Italian cookies. This year she is more focused, wanting to slim down for college next year.

“We don’t deprive her of anything,” said Brosius, who works for an insurance company. “If you are really craving something, you have a little bit of it.”

That’s a good strategy, according to Dr. Thomas Robinson of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, who warns parents not to be the food police. He suggests parents and kids work together to prepare healthier holiday meals.

Vetter said her son has since calmed down. They went out for a sushi dinner on Thanksgiving — California rolls, Yellowtail, Spanish Mackerel — and he loved it, she said.

“We are still on track for more fish and we don’t have the sweet carbs sitting around the house,” she said. “Now my son wants sushi for Christmas.”

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