I have a good friend who is worried about his and his child’s recent weight gain since the quarantine.
He’s not alone. A WebMD poll of 1,000 adults in the United States reported that half of the women surveyed, and a quarter of the men, gained weight. Another poll of 900 international readers similarly reported that half of the men and a third of the women reported weight gain during the pandemic.
With no clear end to the pandemic in sight and the increased stress of our changed lives, it’s essential for us to make adjustments along the way. Instead of focusing on the past four months, in this case the weight you or your child may have added, take a deep breath, gather the family together, and make a new plan.
We need to view studies like the WebMD survey as good news in that we are not alone. And if your child has gained weight, the whole family must get involved in making better and healthier choices. Here are a few recommendations and tips to help us change or refine our habits and everyday activities as a family.
Potential Causes of Children Gaining Weight
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it can help you identify potential issues you see that need to be addressed:
- Junk food and fast food are readily available.
- Schools aren’t providing enough physical activity.
- Kids are watching tv, playing video games, socializing online, and not spending enough time playing outside.
- Families are busy. While families are eating out less, many are having food delivered. Like eating out, delivered meals usually cost more, portion sizes are often larger, and usually higher in calories. Dine-in or carry out meals can also be richer and higher in calories.
- Kids have access to a wide variety of cereal, snacks, drinks, and other processed “convenience foods” at home with larger amounts of sugar than home-prepared foods.
- TV and online media, in addition to what we see going about our day, tell us we need to eat this, or we need to eat that, to be happy and successful.
- Kids are stressed and turn to food and zoning out as a way to cope.
- Parents aren’t setting a good example, nor are they consistent in the guidelines they set.
None of us are perfect. As I look at this list, I see several areas where I can improve our families’ habits. This is one of the reasons why helping our children eat healthier has to include the entire family.
Weight Gain – Tips to Keep Your Family Healthy, Active and Fit
If you think your child is overweight, my best advice would be to visit with your pediatrician. There are assessments and resources the pediatrician can use to help you determine if your child is overweight, and if so, put together a plan.
But please don’t go online and try to determine your child’s status based on their height, weight, and BMI. Kids grow at different rates and experience growth spurts, and BMI is not always the best tool to use for children.
Before putting your child on a diet, restricting what they eat, forcing them to exercise, or making other significant changes like this, we want to be careful that we are actually helping our kids and have their best interests at heart. Rather than satisfying some idea in us of what our kids should weigh and look like, make sure to consult with professionals on any actions you decide upon. Having another set of eyes, a professional set of eyes, to learn from and collaborate with is the best way to move forward.
We Are Intrinsically Linked to Our Kids
Our kids tend to do as we do, not as we say. If you have determined, hopefully with the help of your pediatrician, that your child is overweight, it only makes sense that your child and the rest of the family need to come together to help each other out. Making better food choices as a family benefits everyone no matter what you weigh. Here are a few tips to help you lead your family to better nutrition:
- Share with your family what you eat. Include what they may not see you eat when you’re at work. If you bring carrots and hummus to work for an afternoon snack, share this with them. If you buy a candy bar to help you get through your day, chalk up your experience as a source of empathy. Again, we can all benefit from eating healthier.
- Cook with your child when you’re preparing healthy food. Assign them an age-appropriate task to help you with the dish. Share stories about how you learned to cook, why you like the recipe you’re preparing, and how the ingredients in the dish are good for their body. Or, share with them that you didn’t receive a lot of guidance on cooking when you were growing up. Show them that you would welcome someone to show you how to cook nutritious and healthy food.
- Involve your child in your daily exercise routine, but make sure it’s something you enjoy doing. In other words, if we’re complaining about getting exercise, that’s not helping. If you don’t have an exercise you love, reevaluate your options. Try to find a physical activity you enjoy that you can do with your child. Our daughter has recently started riding her new bike. My wife and I enjoy walking. When the three of us go out, my wife and I take turns walking, while the other rides their bike with our daughter.
Again, we set the example, and it’s not always easy. Since I was a child, I sat in front of the tv when eating most of my meals. This habit disconnects me from the social experience of eating with my family and distracts me from the food I’m putting in my body. Experts agree that it’s best to put screens down when eating. We have to be honest about our habits and behavior and be willing to change ourselves in order to help our kids.
Have a Family Meeting
If you determine that your child needs to make some changes, or your family could benefit from eating healthier and exercising more, then call a family meeting and make a plan. This way, you’re not focused on just one person. There’s less pressure. And there’s also a sense of everyone pulling together.
Here are a few suggestions you can do at your family meeting:
- Create a family menu for the next week or two. Come to an agreement of what a healthy meal looks like: protein, two vegetables, whole grains, eating all the colors of the rainbow and so on. Then everyone contributes what they like to eat and together, through talking and compromising, you set up your family menu. We are not dieting, we’re not restricting food, we’re making sure the meals our family eats are healthy and nutritious. And hey, if putting together healthy meals is not a concept or practice you are too familiar with, consult with a dietician or nutritionist. Get it right and learn together.
- As you plan your family menu, also consider your snack situation. What do you need to get rid of, which snacks are a hard no, what healthy snacks do people like, and which unhealthy or questionably healthy snacks do you want to include occasionally? Give your kids options and let them choose.
- Create structure or a schedule of when you will eat meals and have snacks. Everyone agrees to eat by the plan as best they can. Try to identify at least one meal where everyone eats together.
- Address screen time when eating. No screen time is best, but if you need to start with one meal and scale down, that’s up to you and the family.
- Exercise or enjoyably moving your body. Think through what the family can do daily, and consider day trips you can take as a family on the weekend and a new weekend tradition like a Saturday morning family bike ride.
I really like this idea. I would have loved for my parents to pause, call for a family meeting, and provide some structure that we were all going to follow.
Create a Family Menu
- As a family, create or revise your family menu of meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), snacks (healthy and unhealthy), drinks, and treats that everyone can agree to.
- Create a grocery list based on your new family menu to help you make better decisions when shopping, which also minimizes how many times we need to the market, where we are tempted again to buy what we don’t need.
- Let your children decide a few of the healthy and unhealthy snacks, plus treats. Listen to them when it comes to their meal choices. They are much more likely to buy into following the menu if they’ve been given some options.
- When it comes to unhealthy treats and snacks, you set the parameters. In other words, you set their choices regarding the kinds of snacks and treats, they can choose from. You also set the limits on how much of either snack and treats they get to enjoy. While it’s essential to give our kids choices, also remember you decide what they choose from.
- As a family, talk through the most convenient times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mom may need to leave early for work, or dad can’t be home by a certain time for dinner but choose at least one meal where everyone is present. If that’s impossible, see if one parent can be with the kids at breakfast and the other parent at dinner.
- Set mealtime and snack times and follow them as closely as possible. Kids, and adults for that matter, thrive in structure. If the entire family is buying into your new family plan, our kids are likely to complain less and help keep us on the plan.
- Set a time or special day for unhealthy snacks. For example, if you or the family decides on morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon snack times, consider letting your child choose an unhealthy snack for one of these periods. Or on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, they can choose. Again, you set the parameters.
- Build-in special days of the week. On Friday we have movie night. Instead of eating at the dinner table, we sit in front of the TV, turn the lights off, eat homemade pizza, and watch a show. We recently piled through the last season of Top Chef.
Whatever our habits were before our family meeting, the foods and experiences we enjoyed, we don’t have to cut them entirely out. Have your ice cream, but maybe once a week. It’s fun to eat and watch a show together, but perhaps only on Friday when there’s no school the next day.
Call Another Family Meeting
Check-in and follow up on the first family meeting, maybe after one week, next time after two weeks, and then perhaps once a month. See how everyone is. How’s everyone feeling about the new food plan. Are there any foods or snacks or “rule” changes the group needs to address? Have fun with it. Praise the kids. Praise your partner. Eat a healthy snack together. Use this model of a family meeting to help you with other issues life throws at you and the family.
Change is Never Easy
Change is never easy, but it’s always more comfortable when you change with others. If our kids are used to eating dinner in front of the TV more than once a week or having a treat after dinner every day of the week, they will more than likely, not be happy with us. That’s why it’s so important that we’re willing to make changes too. Build into your new family plan the changes you will be making to your diet and exercise. Let them see you thrive, or struggle, and get back up again. The worst thing we can do is to point to one member of the family and focus on their weight. Everybody lean in and raise each other up.
If you have any tips, experience, or advice in eating and exercising together as a family, share in the comment below.