Obesity has definitely become an epidemic for young children. Many obese children are at risk of getting heart disease and having a shorter life span. Indeed, one in three children are obese in the United States. One reason for this is because they are eating processed foods at fast food and dine-in restaurants. Processed foods are foods already prepared by someone else. They are high in fat, calories, sugar, and sodium. Examples are: instant macaroni and cheese, French fries, honey buns, lunchmeat, and chicken nuggets.
Another cause of obesity is sugary drinks such as pops, punches, juices, and some milk. Vitamin D milk contains a lot of sugar, which can cause children to become overweight. My dentist also told me that children and adults are getting cavities from drinking milk because of the sugar. I recommend serving skim, 1 or 2% milk, because it has less fat and sugar. Also, there are children who go to the gas station every day and get large Slurpees, which is a sugary flavored drink, which causes hypertension and behavioral problems. Children only need milk and water, and that is all I serve at my daycare. I constantly add lemon, lime, strawberries, cucumber, and oranges to their water for a little taste. However, if you need to give children juice, make sure it is 100% pure and 4oz diluted with water to protect their teeth.
Junk food is another cause of weight gain among children. I know children who are addicted to chips and cannot go to bed at night if they do not have those chips with them while they sleep. A few years ago, I had a parent and child arrive at daycare at 6am. The mother told me that she did not have time to feed her child breakfast, so she asked me if I could give her child a chocolate-chip cookie and a can of Pepsi. That was the perfect opportunity for me to share with her that the food she had given me was unhealthy. I then proceeded to educate her about healthy foods she could give her child. She obliged and continued to feed her children healthy foods long after they graduated from daycare. With that in mind, we always want teach adults about eating healthy without any criticism or guilt. The goal is to bring understanding about good nutrition.
As adults it is important for us to be good role models and set good examples for our little ones. They copy and repeat everything we do, including how we eat. I have a friend who cooks meals for her family every night. For example, one of her meals may consist of chicken, vegetables, fruit, and rice. The father would only eat the meat because he had to go back to watching the football game. Based on this action, their children would only eat the meat at every meal and refused to eat anything else. Eating healthy and modeling good eating habits is half the battle in preventing early childhood obesity. By the way, if children conduct good behavior or receive good grades, it is not necessary to reward them with candy or junk food. Their reward can consist of hugs, kisses, stickers, extra allowance, a special field trip, a gift, or simply encouraging words.
Children should not be forced to finish their meals if they are not hungry. Toddlers should have around 1000-1200 calories per day. Children who are three years old need around 1200-1400 calories. Four year olds can eat around 1400-2000 per day. School-age children should eat around 1600-2200 calories per day. The calorie intake also depends on the sex of the child and how active they are throughout the day. For example, as boys enter puberty, they may need as much as 2500-3000 calories per day.