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When Children Are Overweight: Healthy Diets for Overweight Children

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/27/2011

Are there any healthy diets for overweight children? The answer may surprise you. A child's diet is almost never equivalent to an adult's diet.

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    Should Children Diet?

    Many parents of overweight kids are on the lookout for healthy diets for their children. However, putting your child on a strict adult’s diet can be dangerous without the guidance of a nutritionist that is specific to your child. Unless your child is severely obese or has other health issues, the perfect “diet” for your overweight child involves teaching her healthy eating habits and helping her choose healthy foods.

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    A Healthy Diet for an Overweight Child

    Children will eat what tastes good, and the foods that taste good to them are often not the healthiest choices. To help your overweight child with his diet, talk with him about the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins. Although you do not want to specifically connect this discussion to your child’s weight (as you want to show that you accept and love him at any weight), your child may choose this time to mention his own concerns. Assure your child that you are on his side and want everyone in the family to be healthy. Ask your child to list foods that he likes that contain healthy ingredients, and focus on providing those foods for your child on a regular basis.

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    Tips for Helping Your Child Eat Healthy

    • Buy plenty of healthy snacks, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and keep them on hand when your child gets hungry.
    • Avoid buying sugary or high-fat snacks on a regular basis. If they’re not in the house, your child will look around for alternatives – which will hopefully be healthier.
    • Bring your child on a shopping trip in search of healthy foods she enjoys.
    • Don’t let your child skip a meal, including breakfast. Keeping her blood sugar on an even keel will prevent binging or sudden hunger attacks.
    • Avoid fast food restaurants, opting for healthier options whenever possible.
    • Provide your child with smaller portions, offering seconds only if your child requests them.
    • Substitute water and skim milk for soft drinks and juices whenever possible. Although 100% juices are relatively healthy, they are also high in calories.
    • Substitute whole grains for refined grains and choose low GI (glycemic index) foods whenever possible. Research has shown that foods ranking lower on the glycemic index promote weight loss in children.
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    Tips for Keeping Your Child Active

    Find physical activities that your child enjoys. Signing your child up for a soccer team against his will is a recipe for disaster, so make sure to take your child’s needs and interests into account. If your child is extremely social and somewhat athletic, try to encourage him to sign up for a sports team on his own, or to get together with friends on a regular basis for a game of basketball. If your child would rather not exercise in a group, consider encouraging him to choose a fun activity, such as riding his bike, swimming in a community pool, or jumping rope.

    Most importantly, if you are encouraging your child to become more physically active, make sure that you and her other family members are active as well. For example, choose a trip to the zoo over a trip to the movie theater, and a picnic in a local park (with balls and other outdoor supplies) over lunch at a fast food restaurant. Join your child in physical activities as much as possible, and show your child how you enjoy exercising as well.