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Eating Healthy When You Have Young Children

Research has found that becoming a parent is associated with weight gain and the inability to lose that excess weight over time. However, there are simple strategies that will help you avoid the "Parenthood 15".

Eating Healthy When You Have Young Children

Anyone who has small children knows the struggle. You have every intention of following a healthy diet but then real life happens and all those good intentions get thrown out the window. Following a healthy diet is difficult enough when you don’t have any children, but add caring for young kiddos into the mix and the task of maintaining a healthy diet gets exponentially more difficult. A recent study out of the University of Texas, published in Social Science and Medicine, found that being a parent increases the rate at which you gain weight over your lifetime. The research revealed that parents gain much more weight than people without children.

Stock Your House for Success

The first step in getting your kids (and yourself) to adhere to a nutrient-dense diet based on whole foods with ingredients you can actually pronounce is to make healthy options the only options at your house. Of course, splurging every once in awhile for special occasions is acceptable, and, in fact, encouraged, to teach children that all foods can be included in a healthy diet but some need to be chosen more often and some chosen less often. If you stock your fridge, freezer, and pantry with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, low-fat or fat-free dairy, healthy fats, lean proteins and low-sugar beverages, you’re setting yourself and your children up for success from the get-go.

Try to Maintain Structured Meal Times

One of the biggest struggles in getting your kids to eat healthy, balanced meals and sticking to your own healthy eating habits is the fact that families are incredibly busy these days and don’t establish routine meal times. Sticking to structured meal times will help you avoid ordering take-out last-minute or stopping at a drive-through when dinner isn’t planned out. Create a meal plan for the entire week, and on your least-busy day, do some pre-prep such as chopping veggies and fruits, cooking brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, or roasting a whole-chicken to be used in a variety of dishes throughout the week. Employ this strategy and you’ll avoid eating fast-food or high-calorie take-out with your kids just because they are hungry and dinner wasn’t planned out.

Avoid “Kid” Foods

It’s alarming that the majority of foods marketed towards kids on television or offered on the “Kid’s Menu” at restaurants and fast-food joints are loaded with sugar, fat, and sodium and are usually void of beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. Look at any “Kid's Menu” and you’ll like find hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese sticks, etc. Kids over the age of 2 can really eat all of the same foods (except alcohol, obviously) as adults--they just need smaller portions. If you have more than one child, order something healthy off of the regular menu and have them split it. Single child family? Box up half of the dish for another day.

Avoid Eating Your Child’s Leftovers

Kids can be picky and rarely finish everything on their plates. However, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by cleaning their plates yourself. If you have already eaten your meal and feel full and satisfied, finishing what your kids left on their plates all of the time will add unnecessary calories to your day’s intake. A bite here and a bite there may not seem like many calories, but all of that nibbling adds up throughout the day, the week, and the months, contributing to slow weight gain over time.

Stay Physically Active

Parents often exercise less often or at a lower intensity than people without kids. Parenting takes up a lot of your time, leaving very few hours for sleep, a social life, or work, let alone exercise. One way to ensure you’ll stick to your before-parenthood exercise regimen is to seek out gyms that provide childcare while you exercise. Or, take the kids on a walk, a hike, or to the park. You could also check if your local community center has fun children’s activities while you exercise there. The kids can take swimming lessons while you jog the track or lift weights.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.

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