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I'm writing in sheer desperation today, with the hope that the supportive eGullet community I've seen helping others can help me as well. Here's the scoop: my darling son, age eight, had a routine physical last week. He's big for his age (nearly as tall as his 11-year-old sister), but that doesn't explain his noticeable belly. Our doctor is great--he had a nice conversation about healthy eating with my son, without mentioning the weight issue at all. I asked a roundabout question, not wanting to mention it either--I said something like "Are there any health issues I should be concerned about?" The doctor's reply was "Not right now, but if this doesn't resolve itself in a couple of years, then yes."

On the one hand, I know a couple of years can make an enormous difference: a friend's two sons were overweight as grade schoolers and are now, somehow, tall and thin men young men. But I don't want to sit around and hope my son grows into his weight. I want to do what I can to make sure he doesn't carry this problem with him throughout his life, as both his father and I have.

I also know I'm the parent here. I know where I've fallen down on the job: I was in grad school and insanely busy when my kids were toddlers, so Happy Meals and frozen dinners were part of the menu a little too often. Still, as a baby, my son happily ate sweet potatoes until he turned himself yellow; now, I can't get him to touch them. Left to his own devices (which he never is, of course), the boy would eat cheeseburgers, french fries and pizza at every meal. On top of this, he's not an athletic kid; his interests lean toward reading and drawing. I took him hiking yesterday, but getting him out of the house was no small feat.

In the midst of all this, my daughter has somehow grown up to be a pathologically healthy eater and an amazing athlete. (We're still not quite sure where she came from.) I'm happy to make meals that please her, but this leaves my son without a thing on his plate that's appealing to him. I don't want him to grow up thinking of healthy eating as a kind of deprivation; that's what led to the weight problem I'm finally in control of now. But I also don't want to cater to his limited palate, especially when that would mean offering up unhealthy meals just for the sake of making him (briefly) happy.

How to get him to enjoy making healthier choices, so he'll do it more often? That's the rub.

Any and all advice is much appreciated.

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We have two age 8s as well and one with a similar fondness for "bad" snacks. What makes it harder is that we eat what tastes good rather than what is good for you.

We have made one slight change to all of our diets and it has shown dramatic results. We have eliminated all processed sugars and syrups. No more devil dogs, snicker bars and fruit punch etc. We still allow sweet snacks like home made cookies, 100% juice, any and all fruit.

Homemade good gushy deserts are amazing compared to the absolute garbage they put in kids snacks, cereal and drinks (juice boxes for example have close to no juice in them :angry: )

M

Oh also: the best advise our doctor ever gave us (we have 3 total) is that issues and problems with children are sometime best left to simmer. Nothing ever needs immediate or drastic action. Slow and steady wins the race.

Edited by NYC Mike (log)

-Mike & Andrea

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If his interests tend towards reading and drawing, maybe you can find a cookbook or two at the library or bookstore that he might like to delve into. Let him choose a recipe he likes (with the limitation that it should be more focused on healthy food than "not") and then go to the grocery store together to buy the stuff for the meal and help him cook it (with him in the "lead", you "assisting").

The colors and textures of vegetables and fruits - the idea of being able to create something "from a book" - the pride in accomplishment *can* lead some younger people into the kitchen instead of to the nearest fast food place.

If you are busy, it will be difficult to do this on a weeknight, I'm sure. But for a weekend project, perhaps.

Another idea is to visit the Farmer's Market if there is one near you, with him choosing what to buy. The life, vitality, and tastes of the things there are so much more enticing than the neat bland rows at the grocery store. The difference is almost like day and night.

I've never been able to leave a Farmer's Market without my kids eating half of what we've bought there as we walk home.

Best of luck, pamjsa.

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I'll admit I wasn't a big fan of some of former President Clinton's policies and exploits, but I wholeheartedly support Healthier Generation, the branch of the William Clinton Foundation which focuses on the problem of childhood obesity.

http://www.clintonfoundation.org/050305-fe...-initiative.htm

Ex-President Clinton admits that poor eating habits developed during his childhood contributed to his recent health problems. The web site provides information and links.

All citizens, whether parents or not, should be more aware of the risks posed by an overweight society.

SB (non-partisan today) :wink:

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You might be able to start by making some relatively healthy home-made pizza at home -- add some whole wheat flour to the dough and focus on really delicious, colorful toppings. Oven-dried plum tomatoes are incredibly seet a good. You could even use pepperoni by broiling it first, on a rack, to get it crispy and render some of the fat. Pasta with sauteed vegetables and chicken might be another option. Add some fresh grated parmigiano and some red pepper flakes for extra flavor.

I know how hard it is to get kids moving -- my daughters would rather be glued to the computer than go outside on a gorgeous day, but you could always try the bribing routine: pay additional chore money for raking leaves, taking the dog, if you have one, on a extra-long walk. Even bringing the bottles and cans for returns means doing a little more physical activity.

For dessert-type foods, Fudgsicles are rich tasting without a lot of calories or fat, as is sorbet, Italian ice, and sherbet.

Good luck!

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I recommend the book "Nourishing Traditions" (by Sallon Fallon and the Weston Price Foundation) because it's full of anecdotal evidence on the ills of modern, factory foods — he might enjoy reading it even at his age — and it gives a sensible platform to base a whole-foods diet around.

Does he like oatmeal? If so, then you could make Irish steel-cut oats for him, adding dried fruits and a little bit of honey, maybe some flax seed. They take longer to cook, but if you soak them overnight (usually with a little bit of yogurt to make the grains easier to digest), then it's really quite managable.

I loved oatmeal as a kid, but it was the instant, over-sugared variety that was really a nutritional nightmare. This stuff fills me up and gives me energy for hours. It might prevent a child from snacking throughout the day.

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I knew I could count on you guys for fabulous suggestions. Keep 'em coming!

A few changes I'd made in our eating habits even before we saw the doctor: switching to sugar-free versions of frozen treats (usually I buy the sugar-free Whole Fruit bars, but occasionally popsicles or ice cream bars instead); buying smaller packages of "bad" treats, to keep them under control (like the 100-calorie packs of Chips Ahoy); and cutting waaaaaay back on the fruit juice. My kids are now limited to one cup a day, which they can enjoy with breakfast or as an after-school treat. No one has complained about this yet. These changes made an immediate difference, but it seems we've hit a plateau and need to move on to the next level.

I like the idea of finding a cookbook with healthy recipes that appeal to my son. Now that I think about it, he was the one who discovered our favorite recipe for banana pancakes. Maybe getting him involved with the cooking is part of the solution.

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Consider planting a vegetable and/or fruit garden next spring. Several people have told me that kids are more likely to each such foods if they've grown them, themselves.

I also like the idea of seeing if you can lure him into cooking. And if it works, don't forget to brag about him to others, so that he can hear it. "This kid makes his own pizza. And it's better than anything we can buy." Kids have a way of fulfilling their parents' expectations...

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Is there any way you can avoid pre-packaged snacks altogether? Those things are a lot worse than they seem. When we first moved to the US, my brother and I gained a lot of weight. Our father suggested we cut the packaged stuff out of our diets and sure enough we lost all the extra weight within a year or so. I don't diet at all, ever, and eat all kinds of "bad" stuff like butter, bacon, cheese, sugar etc. but for some reason I truly can't explain the corn syrup and hydrogenated fat had a much worse effect than just plain regular sugar and butter. Maybe they don't taste as good so you end up eating more of them, I really don't know.

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I was an overweight kid (and am an overweight adult), and am now trying to navigate these waters with my kids to minimize the chance of them having the problems I did.

Here's some things I have tried, and some suggestions I have gotten (some duplicate the suggestions above).

1. I have my oldest child help me cook as often as possible (and will with my daughter when she gets older). He's a picky eater, but he seems much more willing to try things if he's helped make them.

2. I make healthy meals most of the time and minimize the pre-packaged stuff available in the house as much as possible. My kids have to try some of everything on their plates. If they don't like it, they may substitute with another reasonably healthy food that they can grab themselves-- my oldest child likes yogurt and salad, for example.

3. I allow sweets on a limited basis-- I don't want them to think they can never have them, but I also want them to know they are a once-in-a-while food.

4. I have my kids help me pick out fruits and veggies at the store, put them in bags, and so forth.

5. I try to go against my own nature and make sure the kids get out and get some exercise every day-- and I go with them. Sometimes that's just a walk, but at least they're not too sedentary.

6. TV time is not eating time. I try to dissociate eating from television watching-- I know quite a number of my pounds came from mindlessly eating while watching TV as a kid. I try to limit the TV, and keep eating at the table.

7. Fast food is a very occasional thing. Maybe once every couple of months.

Finally, I have been told that exercise is really key. If there is some sport your son is interested it, get him involved in that. It doesn't have to be a team sport if he's not terribly athletic-- could be dance, fencing, bike riding, swimming, etc. My eldest is five and he's not terribly interested in t-ball and soccer, but does like dancing and swimming. His natural inclination, like mine, is to read or do projects.

My kids are still quite young, so I have no idea yet whether or not this will be successful. I try not to do anything drastic, but am trying to instill better eating habits than I had. I know if my parents had just flat-out put me on a diet, I would have seriously rebelled. I also know I have to practice what I preach. My son reminds me when I don't eat enough of a vegetable I don't care for is that the rule is you have to try everything being served. Darn, I hate it when they listen to you! Also, I work full time and it's a real adjustment having to get a meal on the table every night rather than just getting fast food or takeout. I have tried to find some quick but generally healthy things my kids will eat that I can make in a pinch-- or if I have to do take-out, I get something like chicken kabobs with vegetables and rice rather than something greasy. Now if I could just make myself behave so well when I'm at work!

Good luck with your son!

**edited because, until I can get that spell-check brain implant, I still manage to write words like "exersize"

Edited by Rinsewind (log)

"An' I expect you don't even know that we happen to produce some partic'ly fine wines, our Chardonnays bein' 'specially worthy of attention and compet'tively priced, not to mention the rich, firmly structur'd Rusted Dunny Valley Semillons, which are a tangily refreshin' discovery for the connesewer ...yew bastard?"

"Jolly good, I'll have a pint of Chardonnay, please."

Rincewind and Bartender, The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

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Some things I did when I worked at a group home with younger children:

Set out healthy foods to munch on, but do it *very* casually. Just have them there and don't comment. This is especially sucessful right after school, when appetites are often the biggest. Sliced vegetables, sliced fruits, healthy dips like hummus, lower fat cheeses would all go well here.

Present healthy foods in ways that are new, such as cutting the peel from oranges and slicing into bite sized bits (similar to what's done at many Asian style restaurants - think how much more attractive that orange suddenly is when you don't have to peel.

Plan out meals that are healthy but accessable to your son (nothing that would make him wretch, but not pizzas and french fries every night, either) and have one item that he has eaten and liked in the past at each dinner. This will help him branch out, since he's likely to be hungry and will soon become bored with one selection. Make sure the foods you do choose are delicious, just less calorie laden.

Limit or get rid of altogether unhealthy foods - if they aren't around, he'll snack on other things.

Encourage movement in his free time. Go fly a kite together (can't help but run when flying a kite). Make a nightly walk a family affair, something you all do together (even a simple walk around the block is a start, and a really nice time to talk about the day).

Weight issues are a lot easier to deal with in children than in adults. Since he's still growing, just small change in his diet and exercise levels will help him stop gaining while he grows taller - in effect causing weight loss. Plus, the eating habits he learns now will stay with him and guide his later years. Kudos to you for making changes now.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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I'm happy to make meals that please her, but this leaves my son without a thing on his plate that's appealing to him.

I think healthy foods would become more appealing to him if he ate them more. We become accustomed to things after a while. Once I started eating healthier versions of my favorited foods (such as oven-baked fries) I found high-fat version (such as fast-food fries) greasy and unappealing.

I definitely agree with the suggestions of getting a cookbook, letting him help shop, and growing a few things in the garden. I have known many kids this has helped! Even one who refused to eat anything but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches -- three meals a day -- gulped down the gazpacho he helped make by the bowlfuls.

If you haven't done this already, sit down with him and help him make a list of all the things he likes or would be willing to try eating. If he feels like he has some input and control over dinnertime, he might be more willing to eat healthier foods. Just the fact that you are respecting his likes and dislikes when it comes to food may help.

A lot of kids like raw veggies more than fresh. If he likes things like raw carrots with dip, there's no reason he can't have that for dinner instead of peas. If he likes broccoli with cheese sauce I think that's better for him than french fries even though both have fat.

We have made one slight change to all of our diets and it has shown dramatic results. We have eliminated all processed sugars and syrups.

I agree this can make a huge difference. Not only that, but with so much corn syrup being made with genetically engineered corn, it can help keep the weird unknown things from your diets. Besides, eight Chips Ahoy cookies aren't nearly as satisfying as one homemade cookie, and homemade cookie dough can sit in the freezer so that cookies can be made as needed instead of all at once.

Limit or get rid of altogether unhealthy foods - if they aren't around, he'll snack on other things.

I think it's really hard to have unhealthy snacks in the house and then limit them and/or only let some family members eat them. I think it is better to eliminate them altogether, although this can be done gradually and/or replaced by homemade versions of the same unhealthy junk food.

If there is some sport your son is interested it, get him involved in that. It doesn't have to be a team sport if he's not terribly athletic-- could be dance, fencing, bike riding, swimming, etc.

Karate lessons are another thing that a lot of kids enjoy, and even music lessons would give him something to focus on besides eating and reading.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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Rinsewind reminded me of something when she mentioned sports.

My son is also not a "team-sports" type of guy. Also like reading and art.

Last year he decided to take karate lessons.

Excellent. In many ways.

(And as a note, there is a boy who joined about the same time - about fourteen years old and getting to the point of being extremely overweight.

This year he is trim and strong. He is happy and also has even taken to working part-time at the place.)

Karate is a really good thing. :wink:

Edit: Cross-posted with TPO - karate was in both our minds at the same time! :biggrin:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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If you're not familiar with the roasted cauliflower thread, do take the time to look it over. If you're serving cooked vegetables, roasted might be more appealing than other ways of fixing them.

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Its the damn juice....did we drink all that juice as kids?? Cranberry juice was nasty, orange juice was tart, and apple must have been expensive because I dont remeber anything about it. To get me to drink OJ my grandmother would mix it with seltzer to cut the flavor...would also cut the calories. From bottle to sippy cups and onward kids are having hundreds of calories a day in juice. If I cant chew it or get buzzed from it I dont want calories :blink:

tracey

chubby kids mom

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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Oh, Pam. It's hard with the kiddos, isn't it? At that age, they are such a mixed bag.

The attitude we always took was this: If you eat only when you're hungry, and eat good stuff as much as you can, and stay active, you will weigh what you are supposed to weigh. The sedentary lifestyle can be a problem now and forever. But not everyone is created to be bony. My younger son gains weight before a growth spurt; we literally start shoppiong for new clothes when his belly starts to grow. He has yet to not outgrow it.

When I was a kid, we had one car that my dad took to work. We were too broke to eat processed foods; sodas were for special occasions only. Even at a young age, we did a large share of yard work and housework. We rode our bikes everywhere. My siblings were all lean, rangy kids, and I was the fat one.

By today's standards, I wasn't. But compared to my sisters, I was. My weight was the constant source of family focus and strife; what is she eating, slap the cookie out of her hand, don't let her have dessert, give her a hamburger without a bun, take her to a doctor and get her on a diet. I swore that my son would not have that kind of focus on his appearance ... We do insist on some sort of physical activity for the boys; team sports when they are interested, and some days they just walk on a treadmill while watching Comedy Central. Whatever it takes.

BTW, of the kids in my family, guess which one wasn't getting fatter by the second once we hit our 20s? :smile:

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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pamjsa,

It sounds as if you've got a wonderful, artistic kid on your hands. Have you thought about letting him plate and photograph food? He might like the still life concept and maybe he could post on the dinner thread later in life. If he gets involved in making it look attractive the food may prove very appetising. If you have concerns about knives and fire, smoothies are a great treat and really healthy as well. Just throw ingredients into a blender. Let him be in control with guidelines set by you.

This winter, maybe he could design a small veggie garden for you all to plant in the spring. I know it is long term and will take planning, but that's what you want... an ongoing interest in healthy food. And, trust me, gardening can be a real workout.

Good luck and good job so far!

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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My siblings were all lean, rangy kids, and I was the fat one. 

By today's standards, I wasn't. But compared to my sisters, I was.  My weight was the constant source of family focus and strife; what is she eating, slap the cookie out of her hand, don't let her have dessert, give her a hamburger without a bun, take her to a doctor and get her on a diet.  I swore that my son would not have that kind of focus on his appearance ...

My younger brother was always the eat-whatever-you-want-and-never-gain-an-ounce kid--he weighed 72 pounds for three years straight, in spite of the fact that he ate whole bags--as in, family-size bags--of Doritos at one sitting. Meanwhile, I was the kid to whom my mother would say "Do you really think you need those potato chips?"

This is yet another reason why I'm sensitive about my son's weight issues--I don't want him to grow up feeling self-conscious about his perfectly normal body, especially when he's such an amazing little person. (For his birthday this year, he asked if we could donate money to an organization that was working to save the animals left homeless by Hurricane Katrina rather than buying him presents. All together now: "Awwwww . . .")

I suppose the easiest thing to do, as some people have suggested, is to keep the "bad" treats out of the house altogether. But then what happens when my son encounters them at school, or at a friend's house? Part of my job, I think, is teaching him how to handle the bad stuff when it's around--with moderation aforethought. One of the lessons I finally, finally learned in my last (and most successful) encounter with Weight Watchers is that denying myself the "bad" stuff only makes it that much more desirable; letting myself have a small portion of whatever I want isn't going to hurt anything, and it prevents the inevitable backlash wherein I eat an entire pint of lowfat frozen yogurt to appease my sense of having been deprived.

On the question of physical activity: we tried karate, assuming it to be the thinking boy's sport, and it worked until my son discovered that sparring was going to involve being hit in addition to hitting his opponents. So much for that. Swimming is his superjock sister's sport--plus, he has issues with recurring ear infections, so being in the water isn't a great option. And he can't yet ride a bike. (I was worried about this until I discovered that our across-the-street neighbor, who's ten, also hasn't yet mastered this skill.) I like the idea of getting him involved with the dog-walking, which could easily become one of his after-school responsibilities.

Thanks again for all the support and good suggestions here. I'm listening and taking it all to heart--and glad to know I'm not the only parent out here struggling with this issue.

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I bucked hay bales, fixed fence, and walked beans summers...

Of course, my BMI is now 27 and I run marathons...

edit to add: great sports in my development: fencing and wrestling

Edited by jsolomon (log)

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I suppose the easiest thing to do, as some people have suggested, is to keep the "bad" treats out of the house altogether. But then what happens when my son encounters them at school, or at a friend's house? Part of my job, I think, is teaching him how to handle the bad stuff when it's around--with moderation aforethought.

I agree that treats shouldn't be forbidden. But I don't think it has to be all or nothing. Personally I would offer delicious, satisfying treats (like homemade cookies, good quality chocolate, good frozen yogurt, buttered popcorn, etc.) and cut back on highly processed foods (like Doritos, Chips Ahoy, etc.). That way, kids still learn about moderation, but they also learn that eating greasy chips just for the sake of having something salty to snack on isn't worth the calories.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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If you're not familiar with the roasted cauliflower thread, do take the time to look it over.  If you're serving cooked vegetables, roasted might be more appealing than other ways of fixing them.

I definitely agree with this. I always thought I didn't like vegetables at all, but what I didn't like was the way they were prepared. Roasted vegetables are a revelation!

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

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