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Your Family Guide for Healthy Weight: Simple Tips

This resource guide was developed to help guide your family develop healthy habits by offering tips and tricks from pediatric experts. Whether you have a child that has been diagnosed as overweight or obese or you are just looking for ways to eat healthier and become more active, this guide will give you specific steps that you can take to make positive changes in your lifestyle. This Guide offers parenting tips, recipes, shopping lists, tips for reading nutrition labels, portion suggestions and much more to make your lifestyle changes successful.

Congratulations on taking your first step to improving your family’s health!

Develop Healthy Habits for Life

Just as bad habits such as playing video games for hours on end or eating in front of the a television are developed over time; it will take time to develop healthy habits. Here are some simple behaviors that your family can develop into healthy habits:

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits or vegetables each day.
  • Limit sugar-containing drinks. 
  • Drink more low fat milk and water.
  • Limit TV time to less than two hours each day.
  • Make sure everyone in your family gets at least one hour of physical activity or exercise each day.

Remember to:

  • Praise your child when he or she practices a healthy habit.
  • Set a good example as a parent.  Children will imitate what you do.
  • Stick to your expectations and give your child consistency.

You will also want to make sure all of your child’s caregivers know about and agree to help reinforce your new lifestyle.  This includes the babysitter, grandparents and others.


Stock Up on Healthy Foods

Kids will eat what is available to them. That is why it is important to carefully select the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks. Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Work fruits and vegetables into the daily routine. Be sure you serve fruit and/or vegetables at every meal.
  • Serve lean meats and other good sources of protein, such as:

    • fish
    • eggs
    • beans
    • nuts.
  • Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so kids get more fiber.
  • Limit fat intake by:

    • choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
    • avoiding deep-fried foods
    • choosing healthier cooking methods, such as:

      • broiling
      • grilling
      • roasting
      • steaming. 
  • Serve water and low fat milk instead of sugar-containing drinks, such as soda, sports drinks and fruit-flavored beverages.


Make Time for Family Meals

It is important to remember that something as simple as family meals can be beneficial to your family. Here are some reasons to eat more meals at home:

  • Family meals offer the chance to introduce kids to new foods.
  • Eating dinner together and allowing your child to help set the table and clean-up afterward is helpful in developing:

    • motor skills
    • social skills
    • language and vocabulary
    • manners
    • mental health.
  • Kids who eat dinner with their families:

    • have better nutrition and food choices
    • are at less risk for developing eating disorders 
    • are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains
    • are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.


Get Kids Involved

Letting your child prepare the meal will help develop healthy habits. Here are some tips to get your child involved:

  • Talk to your child about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Your child may enjoy helping you decide what to make for dinner.
  • Let your child help you shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. At the store, teach kids to read food labels to begin understanding what to look for when choosing healthy foods.
  • In the kitchen, let your child perform age-appropriate tasks. And at the end of the meal, do not forget to praise the chef!
  • Use school lunches as another opportunity for learning. Brainstorm about what kinds of foods your child would like for lunch or go to the grocery store to shop together for healthy, packable foods.


Don’t Forget Breakfast

Breakfast is a very important meal. A good breakfast fuels you up and gets you ready for the day. In general, kids and teens that eat breakfast have more energy, do better in school, and eat healthier throughout the day.

  • Make sure you are providing your child with a healthy start to the day:
  • Stock your kitchen with healthy breakfast options including:

    • whole grains such as:

      • whole grain pasta
      • oatmeal
      • whole wheat tortillas
    • protein
    • fruit.
  • Prepare as much as you can the night before:

    • get dishes and utensils ready
    • cut up fruit
  • Get everyone up 10 minutes earlier to make time for breakfast.
  • If time allows, let kids help plan and prepare breakfast.
  • Have grab-and-go alternatives (fresh fruit, individual boxes of cereal, yogurt or smoothies, trail-mix) on days when there is little or no time to eat.
  • Limit or avoid sugary cereals and drinks.


Make Snacks Count

Snacks can play an important role in managing kids’ hunger and boosting nutrition when the right options are offered at the right times. Make sure you are offering your child healthy snacks to keep them happy and healthy:

  • Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by keeping these foods on hand and ready to eat:

    • fruits and vegetables
    • low-fat yogurt
    • peanut butter and celery,
    • whole-grain crackers and cheese.
  • Aim for 2/3 of the food groups at snack time.  Some options include:

    • smoothies
    • parfaits.
  • Limit fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as chips and candy. But don’t completely ban favorite snacks from your home. Instead, make them “once-in-a-while” foods, so kids don’t feel deprived.
  • Do not allow your child to graze all day long.  Instead:

    • create a structured schedule by offering snacks at the same times each day
    • allow your kids to decide what they want to eat and how much.
  • Don’t bribe or reward kids with snacks. Avoid using a snack or dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
  • Don’t use food as a way of showing love. Instead, when you want to show love, give kids:

    • a hug
    • some of your time,
    • praise.


Eat Out Wisely

With busy lives, we tend to eat out multiple times each week. At restaurants it can be difficult to tell how food is prepared and choose healthy foods. Taking the time to think through menu choices is important when developing healthy habits. Try these tips the next time you eat out:

  • Try to select a restaurant where food is cooked to order, rather than a fast food or buffet style chain, where the food is made ahead of time. Many restaurants will honor requests for low salt, low fat, and low saturated (bad) fat versions of certain dishes.
  • Watch out for before-the-meal “extras” like drinks (including juice), appetizers, and bread and butter. These are often a source of extra calories, fat, and sodium.
  • Drink water when you eat out. You will save money and not be tempted to get unlimited refills.
  • Read the menu carefully. Before ordering, ask how dishes are prepared. Look for items that are baked and not fried.
  • Ask for salad dressings, sauces and gravies to be served on the side. That makes it easier to control how much is added to the food.
  • Ask about healthy substitutions. For example, if a dish comes with french fries or onion rings, ask for a baked potato, unsalted vegetables or fruit instead.
  • Choose desserts carefully. Fresh fruit, fruit ice, sherbet and angel food cake are tasty and healthy alternatives to fat- and cream-laden desserts.
  • Watch your portions. People tend to eat more when served more, so do not be afraid to ask for a smaller portion, such as a lunch portion instead of a dinner portion or before you begin eating take half of your plate and put it in a take home box for tomorrow’s lunch.


Encourage Your Child to Be Active

Children should get at least one hour of physical activity each day. Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips for raising fit kids:

  • Help your child participate in a variety of activities that are age-appropriate.
  • Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
  • Incorporate activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Turn family time into active time by planning active outings.
  • Keep it fun, so you can count on your child to come back for more.
  • Help your child relate positive feelings with healthy activities. Instead of rewarding your child with a candy bar for a great report card, consider spending a day at the park with him or her.
  • Limit screen time including TV, video games and computer games to less than two hours each day.

Be sure to adopt a healthier lifestyle yourself.  You will be a positive role model for your family.


Develop Good Sleep Habits

Kids need sleep for their growing bodies. Recent studies indicate that lack of sleep may lead to children consuming more food. Sleepy children, because they are tired, are also less physically active during their waking hours. Help your child develop healthy sleep habits:

  • Establish a sleep routine, including a winding-down period.
  • Stick to a bedtime, alerting your child both half an hour and 10 minutes beforehand.
  • Allow your child to choose which pajamas to wear, stuffed animal to take to bed, etc.
  • Consider playing soft, soothing music.
  • Tuck your child into bed snugly for a feeling of security.
  • Encourage your older kid or teen to set and maintain a bedtime that allows for the full hours of sleep needed at this age.  In general

    • ages 6 to 9 need about 10 hours of sleep a night
    • ages 10 to 12 need a little over 9 hours of sleep a night
    • adolescents need about 8 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night.


Beat the Bully

Children should not have to suffer with hurtful name-calling, threats, rumors, and intimidation. Work with your child to develop positive strategies to deal with a bully:

  • Listen to your child and ask them to explain their feelings. Let them know that you understand their feelings and that it is OK for them to feed sad or worried.
  • Help your child figure out what may work in their situation, such as:

    • ignoring the bully
    • staying with a group of friends
    • avoiding situations where bullying typically occurs.
  • Reassure your child that the number on the bathroom scale does not determine their value as a person .
  • Talk about the importance of their academic achievement, relations with family and friends, and their moral development.
  • Also use this as an opportunity to discuss your child’s health and what he or she can do differently to live a healthier lifestyle.
  • Set and enforce a standard that all kids, even obese children, should be treated with respect and caring.


Have the Difficult Conversation about Weight

As a parent, there are many difficult conversations that you will have with your child. If you have talked to your doctor and it has been determined that your child is overweight, it is important not to ignore the issue.  Here are some good tips to help you start this conversation:

  • Talk to your child from an early age about nutrition and weight to help develop healthy habits around eating and activity.
  • Don’t address weight in terms of fat or appearance but rather in terms of health.
  • Remind your child that proper nutrition builds a healthy body and strong mind.
  • Remind your child that good nutrition is about getting the right amounts of the right foods.
  • Instead of planning “a big talk,” use everyday opportunities to keep this conversation going. Good occasions may be when your child tires easily during physical activity or when someone you know is diagnosed with an obesity-related disease.
  • Praise your child for choosing healthy foods and activities. It is your job to be encouraging and not restrictive.
  • Never single out one child because he or she might be overweight. Your family should focus on healthy habits such as being active and choosing proper portions of healthy foods.


“This guide was originally developed for hard copy distribution by pediatric experts at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital & colleagues in the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association with a grant from the Ohio Department of Health.”

This children’s health content is brought to you with support from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.


For more information:

Go to the Kids’ Healthy Weight health topic.