Children are a constant worry to their parents. That's a simple fact of life. But the past few years have seen an additional worry on top of everyday concerns -- obesity.
This issue is still relatively new, certainly it was not a worry to our grandparents who lived in a time when money and food were scarce and housework was performed manually.
Today, things are different -- an abundance of food, appliances for every domestic chore and a more sedentary lifestyle, both at work and at play, means our generation eats more and moves less.
Children have never had it so good -- or bad, depending on which way you look at it; they have never experienced a life where both food and material objects are not available on demand. They eat when they want to -- not necessarily when they are hungry or at traditional meal times -- and what we would once have regarded as 'treats' are now every-day foods that seem to be part of their general diet.
When we consider our present lifestyle, it is no wonder that more and more children are experiencing weight problems. The good news is that we can change -- our children do not have to be victims of our excess.
Changing your child's diet starts in the supermarket, the choices you make here can lead to a healthier lifestyle for the whole family. Shopping with the children can be stressful. Add strategically placed sweets to the mix and you can have an epic battle on your hands trying to get to the checkout without a trolley full of rubbish. But try not to buckle under the pressure. It is a good idea to set out boundaries with the children before you leave the house. Take some popcorn or nuts for them to snack on in the supermarket and agree in advance what you will buy for them.
Making a list before you go will also save time and money. It might be helpful to plan your meals in advance and make your list accordingly. Good items to stock up on are tinned and dried foods that can make quick healthy meals and snacks, such as tinned beans, tuna and tomatoes, and pasta and rice.
The first step to making healthy family food choices is to read the food labels and compare like with like. Ingredients such as sugar, fat and salt are the main ones of concern so opt for items low in these. At the end of your shop, have a quick survey of what is in your trolley to make sure you have a good balance of all the food groups -- carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, dairy and lean meat.
When it comes to mealtimes, getting the children involved can help them understand how to make healthy choices and why -- such as explaining why they need carbohydrates for energy, and that dairy products help them grow taller and develop strong bones. Children as young as two can chip in with tasks, such as washing vegetables, while four-year-olds can set the table, mix ingredients, beat eggs and mash potatoes. Each dinner plate should have a balance of all the food groups. Try to opt for wholegrain carbohydrates where possible (such as brown rice, pasta and bread, for fibre) and include two portions of fish each week.
Children need smaller portions (and plate sizes) than adults, so be mindful of this when serving meals. Most of us come from a generation where we were told to finish everything on our plate, but while children should be encouraged to try everything from their meal, they should decide themselves when they are full. Never force them to finish everything as this can cause unnecessary issues with food. Where you eat is also important, family meals should be eaten at the dinner table and not in front of the TV or computer monitor.
Snacks and treats can wreak havoc on your family's health. If sweets and crisps are freely available then this is one area that needs an overhaul. Start by replacing treats with non-food items as rewards. Instead of promising an ice-cream when your child has completed something successful, why not give them a comic or take them swimming? Snacks and treats are all about balance; don't ban them completely, if eaten in moderation they can be part of your child's diet without being problematic.
Try replacing some treats with healthier alternatives, such as popcorn instead of crisps or a cereal bar instead of a sugary, chewy one. Small amounts of snacks such as biscuits, chocolate and sweets are best and these should be limited to one a day -- as in one packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate -- not one of each! Buy snack-sizes where possible but keep them well out of reach. When it comes to drinks, try to encourage your child to drink milk and water, and limit sugary juices or fizzy drinks. If you struggle to get your children to eat certain foods, such as fruit and vegetables, then think of other ways to prepare or present them. With fruit you could make smoothies; vegetables can be made into burgers or soup; milk can be used in hot chocolate, milkshakes or be replaced by yoghurts.
Remember, there is no point in trying to encourage your children to eat healthily if you do not do so yourself! Set a good example. This applies to getting exercise, too. Although adults only need 30 minutes of exercise a day, children need up to an hour. Make it fun by going on bike rides, playing football in the park or going swimming. Making small changes now will ensure a longer, healthier future for your children, as well as you.