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Raising Healthy Kids: A Blog from Your Trusted Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

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Healthy lifestyle tips for combating child obesity and reducing stress

I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that COVID-19 and school closures have made it harder for kids to stay healthy. At home, most children are moving less and eating more. Family stress has been at an all-time high. Sadly, some of our favorite ways to deal with stress, like time with friends, sports, and after school programs, were put on hold. And with that stress unchecked, children and teens reach for more sugary, fatty foods. As a result, child obesity rates are increasing at a faster rate than they were before we met the COVID-19 virus. This is worrisome news…

I’d like to share with you some of my top tips for supporting healthy weight.

Tip # 1: Avoid “Food Fights”

The dreaded “food fight” – that moment when you and your child are sitting at the table in a standoff about that LAST piece of broccoli. Threatening “no dessert” or less tablet time, everyone is feeling tense. Wouldn’t you like to make mealtimes easier? Try what we call “responsive feeding” … from the start!

Babies and children have all kinds of ways to tell us when they're hungry and when they've had enough. For example, hungry newborns will make sucking noises when they are hungry, and older babies might turn their head away from food when they are full. Toddlers might just tell you when they feel hungry and start to play with their food or become easily distracted once they’re full.

If your newborn, baby or child is showing you they might be full, it’s ok to end the meal before the plate is clean. Cover and store the unfinished food in the refrigerator until they are hungry next! It is especially important for older kids to learn that when their tummy is full, they can stop eating. Using this method of “responsive feeding” from the start creates a healthy mind-body connection which prevents overeating during childhood and beyond.

BONUS – It makes dinner less stressful for you and your kids! Remember, “you provide, they decide.”

Tip #2: Screen-Free Mealtimes

Do you ever munch on a snack while scrolling on your phone or watching television, then look down in surprise at an empty bag or bowl, hungry for more? Well, the same thing happens to kids! Eating with distractions keeps us from listening to our bodies during mealtimes and snacks and we end up overeating, regardless of age.

I know, I know – sometimes using the phone or turning on the television seems like the only way to get your child to sit down for a few minutes! But trust me, if you and your family can trouble shoot some ways to eliminate (or even just reduce) mealtime screen time you will set your child up for healthier eating habits.

If you’re considering ditching the distractions at dinner, talk as a family first. Set some ground rules and adjust as needed. Promise a fun family game afterward! Keep in mind that a toddler might only be able to sit at the table for 5 minutes at first, and that’s okay. Start low and gradually increase the time as they grow older.

Tip #3: The Power of Positivity

One of my favorite child milestones is when a baby discovers herself the mirror! Recognizing herself for the first time, she starts to smile, laugh and reaches out to touch that sweet face looking back at her. She’s fascinated…

Children start to form their self-awareness early on, and body image becomes more complex as they grow up, especially into teenage years. Whether you have a child that is a healthy weight or obese, remember to tell them daily how strong, beautiful and capable they are. Teach them that being healthy is not about a weight or height at the doctor’s office, but about the healthy habits they practice that will keep them running, playing and thriving into adulthood.

Be present when your kids show you their exciting new skills, be active with them and set an example by practicing positive self-talk. By role modeling healthy eating, regular physical activity, and body positivity we can teach children to strengthen their mind and body for life.

Keep your child’s care team in the loop, we’re here to help!

I hope these tips bring more happiness, connection and health into your home!

Share your successes, questions, and concerns about nutrition, exercise and weight at each well-child visit. Ask your pediatrician or nurse practitioner to talk with your family about other ways to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. We are your partners in building a strong and resilient generation.

Let’s do this!

Erica Baumker, CPNP

Schedule an in-person or virtual visit with Erica today, 707-459-6115.

Redwood Medical Clinic
3 Marcela Drive, Willits