Diet and Weight

Should my child be on a diet?

Friends children

Many parents worry when they have a child who seems heavier than other children; others are unaware that their child is overweight. This is an important concern since the rate of overweight Americans has doubled in the past 20 years. Ask your child’s health care provider if you are concerned.

Dieting can interfere with a child’s growth; an overweight child should not diet without direction from a doctor or dietitian. Instead, work with your child to accomplish two things:

  1. Encourage your child to exercise
  2. Help your child adopt healthy eating habits.

The greatest impact you can have on your child’s exercising and eating will be the standards and examples you set. Your child will generally do what he sees you do.

What can I do about my child’s weight gain?

Parenting skills are the foundation for successful treatment of childhood obesity, according to expert recommendations published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile with complications of obesity, or children at or above the 95th percentile with or without complications, should be evaluated and possibly treated.

Talking with your child’s doctor during regularly scheduled wellness visits about your child’s weight can lead to a healthier life style for the whole family. Take advantage of the doctor’s visit to determine if your child is clinically overweight. Ask your doctor for advice on a plan that incorporates good nutrition and exercise to promote a healthy life style for your child. Any decision to enter into a program should be made with the whole family. Having the support of family members is most helpful.

Early evaluation is recommended followed by treatment that focuses on healthy eating and increases physical activity. Creating a routine that incorporates both leads to the success.

How to plan snacks using the food guide pyramid

The idea of snacks being part of a healthy meal plan is especially important for children. Parents and caregivers must plan regular snack times for children. Snacks offered on a regular basis provide children with a continued source of energy for active learning and playing.

The best snacks are foods rich in nutrients. The Food Guide Pyramid is an excellent tool that can be used to plan snacks. You will find a snack in every food group.

Snacks from the bread and cereal group:

  • Breads of all kinds (whole wheat, multi-grain, oats).
  • Fig bars.
  • Flavored mini rice cakes or popcorn cakes.
  • Ginger snaps.
  • Graham crackers.
  • Ready-to-eat cereals.
  • Tortilla roll-ups (flour tortilla with slice of cheese or peanut butter).

Snacks from the vegetable group:

  • Cherry tomatoes cut in small pieces.
  • Steamed broccoli or sugar peas with low-fat dip.
  • Vegetable sticks such as carrots, green or red peppers, cucumbers, or squash.*

* Not appropriate for children under 3 years; may cause choking.

Snacks from the fruit group:

  • Apple ring sandwiches (peanut butter on apple rings).
  • Canned fruits packed in juice.
  • Chunks of banana or pineapple.
  • Juice box (100% juice).
  • Tangerine sections.

Snacks from the milk group:

  • Cheese slices with thin apple wedges.
  • Milkshakes made with fruit and milk.
  • Mini yogurt cups.
  • String cheese.

Snacks from the meat group:

  • Bean dip spread thin on crackers.
  • Hard-cooked eggs (wedges or slices).
  • Peanut butter spread thin on crackers.

University of Florida Extension / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,