Ways to combat obesity through healthy eating habits


Is your child a healthy weight?

To calculate your child's BMI (body mass index) and see it in context of his/her gender and age, click here.

Prioritise family mealtimes

The predictable nature of mealtimes shared as a family provides a comforting ritual with benefits. Children who participate in this tradition are more likely to eat fruit, vegetables and grains. They have less unhealthy snacks and tend not to smoke or drink alcohol in later life. It provides the opportunity to introduce new foods and model good eating habits.

Your example

Say, “This food is just delicious but I’m going to stop eating because I’m full.” Don’t rush a mealtime so your child learns to recognise and respond to the “I’m full” feeling.

Focus on fitness rather than fat. Complaining about your weight and going on a diet is known to foster these negative feelings in your child. Rather say you want your body to work at its best and so you give it the best fuel.

Involve children in meal preparation

  • Shopping together will teach you about your child’s food preferences, while you teach him about the nutritious value of food.
  • Teach him to plan a balanced plate of food. This way you can encourage him to choose between options for dinner such as rice, mashed or baked potato. When we choose something we are more committed to it. So he will be more likely to enjoy and eat his food without a fight.

Avoid negative associations with food

  • Ensure meal times are positive moments of sharing, not scolding. Unpleasant times will cause them to eat faster and associate eating with stress.
  • Withholding food leads to fears that he will not get enough food. This may lead to him eating whenever possible and even when he is not hungry.
  • Using sweets as a reward leads your child to place greater value on these foods. Bargaining, such as, “If you eat your vegetables you can have a chocolate,” sends out the wrong message about vegetables.
  • When we offer a sweet to a child to stop him crying he learns to associate food with love. This leads to comfort eating of treats at times in life when he feels sad or unloved.
  • Avoid saying, “Just have one more spoon.” This makes your child doubt his instincts and ignore his body signals, which leads to overeating.  

Set specific snack times

  • When a child knows how long it will be to his next meal he tends to neither over- nor undereat.
  • Ensure what is available is nutritious. For example, baby tomatoes and carrots, nuts, raisins, or yoghurt.

Designate an eating area

Eating in front of the television can lead to overeating as the child is distracted and does not notice the full feeling.

Eat every 2½ to 3 hours

Eat 3 main meals a day and have portion-controlled snacks in between. The key is to offer him food before he has a raging hunger so he doesn’t seek a high-fat high-sugar quick fix.


Invest in a water bottle that your child loves. Let him take it everywhere with him so water becomes his natural chosen beverage and is accessible. Sweetened and fizzy drinks are linked to the increasing rates of obesity.

Make breakfast a feast

  • Never skip it. Children who eat breakfast are more clear-minded, energetic and concentrate better at school.
  • Ensure it is nutritious. Non-nutritious breakfasts aren’t a good way to start the day and will lead to poor eating choices. Avoid sugary cereals and go for something energy-sustaining. Often children don’t like to eat early in the morning before they are rushed out the door so find healthy snacks they can eat in the car. Cut up fruit, a slice of wholewheat toast with some peanut butter on it makes for a good car breakfast. Keep the wipes handy!

Plant a vegetable garden (if you have time and space)

As your child expends energy in the garden, teach him about the value of vegetables. Homegrown veggies, washed and eaten fresh tend to taste better. Gather your vegetables and find interesting ways to prepare them. For example, vary the texture, blend into soup and pasta sauces.

Plant new foods on a regular basis. To eat the same food all the time leads to imbalances and deficiencies, not to mention culinary boredom.  

Keep the balance at home and away

  • Discuss healthy food options with your child prior to reaching the restaurant, to avoid unpleasant scenes.
  • Ask for a doggy bag before you commence eating and remove all excess from the plate to ensure you don’t overeat but rather stick to healthy portion sizes.
  • Plan ahead. Pack a cooler box for road trips so you don’t have to buy unhealthy convenience snacks along the way.
  • Allow the occasional sweets or fatty food, especially at social events, to prevent your child feeling denied or deprived.
  • Regular exercise will help your child sleep better, gain insight into their body and how it moves and develop a readiness to try challenging activities. Active children are more able to handle physical and emotional challenges. Exercise helps improve metabolism, the health of the body, and burns up energy. It is a powerful agent of change. It increases adherence to healthy eating habits and improves self value which aids weight loss maintenance.
  • Use the natural active nature of your young child as a foundation upon which to build movement for a lifetime. Shape your child’s attitude and behaviour toward exercise early on in life.

So what is considered enough movement time per day?

Infants and young children should not be inactive for more than an hour at a time. Be careful not to leave your baby in strollers, prams, car seats, highchairs and the like for prolonged periods.

Toddlers need 90 minutes of active play with 30 minutess structured and 60 minutes unstructured play throughout the day. Pre-schoolers need 2 hours, with 60 minutes of both structured and unstructured active play.

What are your tips for healthy family eating habits? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.  

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