Diet for Overweight Kids

Eliza Martinez
Make Better Food Choices

With the percentage of overweight kids in the United States steadily on the rise, how can parents change the diet for kids in ways not only to lose weight, but also to equip them with lifestyle changes that make a difference for the rest of their life? Estela Schnelle, the Official Produce for Kids Dietitian says, "A child's weight loss is a family effort. When a child loses weight, the entire family starts to live a healthier lifestyle."

Food as Fuel

Each child has unique nutritional needs. The goal is to find the right balance of calories in and calories burned by making smarter food choices and becoming more active. Check out the following meal ideas, courtesy of Schnelle and the Produce for Kids initiative.

Breakfast

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting started right sets the stage for making good choices for the rest of the day.

  • Apple and Pear French toast is a naturally sweet breakfast that will fill your child's tummy without overloading her on fat and calories.
  • If you want a meal that cooks while you sleep and is ready to fill your child with nutrition in the morning, try Coco-Banana Overnight Oats. The pleasing chocolate and banana combination feels decadent, but is actually healthy.
  • Breakfast Tacos combine protein-packed eggs with veggies and cheese to fill your child with minimal calories.
  • Blueberry Banana Pancakes are great for kids who love sweet meals in the morning. This version cuts the fat and calories, but leaves all the yummy flavor.

Lunch

Kids need lunch to keep them fueled up through the afternoon at school. A healthy and nutrient-dense lunch keeps them going in the classroom, so pack your child's lunch if the school doesn't offer options that fit the bill.

  • Tasty Hummus Sandwiches are easy for lunch boxes, but you can also whip them up for dinner on the go, keeping you away from fast food.
  • A wrap is a tasty and healthy alternative to a traditional sandwich. Try Chicken Veggie Wraps for a new and delicious lunchbox option.
  • Mac and Cheese Muffins are sure to please your child, but are a healthy twist with veggies and low-fat cheese.
  • If your child loves peanut butter and jelly, a PB Fruit Roll-Up is a great choice. With peanut butter, bananas, strawberries and kiwis, they're also loaded with nutrients.

Dinner

Dinner should be hearty enough to keep your kids full through the night, but not so full of fat and calories that your child isn't able to burn them all.

  • Asian Noodle Soup is a yummy choice if your child loves Oriental food. It's much lower in fat and calories than take-out, but will still satisfy a craving.
  • For Mexican food lovers, the Beany Cheese-tadas won't disappoint. Full of appetite satisfying fiber and gooey cheese, your child might not even realize the meal is healthy.
  • Cheesy Veggie Stuffed Shells are a yummy way to get more vegetables onto your child's plate, but they won't let down a pasta lover.

Snacks

Snacks are a great way to make sure kids are getting the recommended daily dose of essential nutrients each day. They also keep them fueled up between meals so they don't get tired.

  • Cheesy Potato Bites are a yummy mixture of potatoes, cheese and tomatoes that'll satisfy your child's appetite for very few calories.
  • Guacamole Tomato Boats are an easy way to let your child enjoy guacamole without all the salty and calorie-laden chips that usually go with it.
  • For a healthy on-the-go snack, make Peanut Butter-Drizzled Popcorn. It's decadent, but not a diet bomb. Plus, popcorn is a whole grain, so it's full of fiber.
  • Smoothie Pops are a great alternative to those sugar-packed fruit pops you kid loves. They combine healthy fruit and 100 percent juice for a tasty option you won't feel guilty about handing over.

Child Nutrient Needs

Kids need a certain amount of important nutrients, including carbohydrates, fat and protein each day. In general, these nutrients should make up a certain percentage of their daily calorie intake. Figuring out how many calories your child needs isn't always easy. Children have varying energy needs based on their body size, health status and level of activity, so it's a good idea to work with your child's pediatrician to determine her specific requirements.

Use the following calorie intake information from the Mayo Clinic as a guideline.

Age Calorie Needs

2 to 3 years
for boys and girls

1,000 to 1,400

4 to 8 years for boys

1,200 to 2,000
4 to 8 years for girls 1,200 to 1,800
9 to 13 years for boys 1,600 to 2,600
9 to 13 years for girls 1,400 to 2,200
14 to 18 years for boys 2,000 to 3,200
14 to 18 years for girls 1,800 to 2,400

Fats

Not all fat is bad and kids need a certain amount to support their brain health and promote healthy energy levels. About 30 percent of your child's daily calorie intake should come from fat, according to Kids Health. That means that if your child consumes 2,000 calories per day, about 600 of them should come from fat.

However, not all fat sources will do. It's vital to choose omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and limit saturated and trans fats. Keep in mind that you need to determine your child's calorie needs before you figure out how much fat is healthy.

Carbohydrates

There's a lot of hype about carbs being bad for weight loss, but the truth is that they give your child's body fuel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some carbs, such as those found in desserts and soda, aren't good choices. Instead, offer your child foods offering a healthy carb intake as well as filling them with other vital nutrients. Keep in mind that your child's carb intake should be approximately 45 to 65 percent of her daily calorie intake, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Protein

Protein plays a role in virtually all of your body's functions and kids need about 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories in the form of protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This ensures healthy muscle function, skin and hair health.

Fiber

Help your child understand the value of fiber. This is a nutrient that fills your child's belly, digests slowly, and keeps him feeling full for longer periods of time than foods low in fiber. This is valuable for losing weight because high-fiber foods can help control your child's appetite, keeping him from overeating and reaching for unhealthy snacks between meals, according to Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D. in Eating Well magazine.

Healthy Choices Challenge

Training a child how to eat and exercise in order to burn calories not only helps them shed the pounds, but also provides them with better overall health now and in the future. Parents are the key in this process because they're in a position to positively influence their children.

A Family Effort

Schnelle advises parent to, "focus on including the entire family when it comes to healthy meal planning. Parents are direct role models for their children. It is important that they be the eater they want their child to be. Sit down as a family and plan meals together. Have each family member contribute by having a say in what is served for lunch and or dinner."

Treats

"It is important not to eliminate treats from a child's diet, but educate them and find a way to work treats into a healthy meal plan. If treats are eliminated, it may lead to overeating when a child is around treats without the parent," says Schnelle. The bottom line is that severe restriction only increases cravings, so a dessert, serving of potato chips or soda every now and then isn't going to derail your entire healthy eating plan. Joy Bauer, expert dietitian for Today recommends helping your child eat right 90 percent of the time and allow for treats 10 percent of the time.

Read Labels

It's also important to teach your child to how to read labels, notes Healthy Utah. This helps him discern whether a food is too high in calories, fat and sugar or if it's a good mix of nutrients and a healthy number of calories. Show your child how to figure out what a proper portion size is so he can measure out an appropriate amount of food at mealtime. Teach him to balance his calorie intake throughout the day so he stays within a healthy calorie range for healthy weight loss.

Facing the Issue

It's easy for a parent to justify their child's weight as baby fat or something they will outgrow, but Schnelle notes that, "most parents are aware. An annual well-check from a pediatrician will show the parent what percentage a child is for their weight and height. If weight is an issue, the doctor will talk to the parents and follow-up with a plan of action."

Get Active

Physical activity combined with healthy food choices helps your child reach a healthy weight. Schnelle recommends "any exercise that the child enjoys. In order for a child to live an active lifestyle, it is important they do activities they enjoy. They are more likely to maintain weight loss if they enjoy the activity they partake in. The entire family should be active together."

Diet for Overweight Kids