Weight & nutrition guide: 5 tips for parents of children & adolescents

As parents, we want to nurture good habits when it comes to nutrition and weight. But how exactly do you do that? And what pitfalls should you look for?

WellTuned spoke with Dr. Sharon Moore-Caldwell, a medical director for BlueCare Tennessee, to find out how to foster positive relationships with food and exercise.

“In Tennessee, a child’s challenges with weight and nutrition are often specific to where they grow up,” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell. “If a family has access to healthy food, safe outdoor spaces, and the parents are active, children are more likely to eat well and exercise. On the other hand, if a child doesn’t have access to consistent opportunities for physical activity, such as school PE or simply playing outside, and if their family cannot afford or does not provide nutritious foods, they’re more likely to fall into unhealthy patterns.

“But as adults, there are things we can all do to set a good example. Children do what we do, so start there.”

5 ways parents can be proactive about weight & nutrition

1. Avoid extremes

“There’s a fine balance parents have to strike when it comes to nutrition,” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell. “A parent who insists their child clean their plate at every meal can create problems, just as a parent who forbids a child to eat a certain food or a certain amount of food can.”

Work toward:

  • Not being overly strict when it comes to eating and working out
  • Focusing instead on moderation
  • Staying away from extremes (“You have to eat this,” or “You should never eat that.”)

2. Look for unhealthy patterns

There are several signs a child may be having difficulty with food or body image:

  • Negative language about their body (“I’m too fat” or “I’m too ugly”)
  • Talking constantly about achieving a certain body weight, type or shape (“I want to look just like ____”)
  • Food restriction and counting (“I can have 5 fries, but that’s it”)
  • Food hoarding (hiding food around the house, overeating to the point of sickness)
  • Using ulterior methods for losing weight (laxatives, diuretics)

3. Find a pediatrician you trust

“Talking about nutrition, weight and body image is easier if it’s an ongoing conversation,” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell. “Your pediatrician should discuss nutrition at each well-child visit as it’s important for growth and development. Ask questions and allow your child to participate in the discussion.”

4. Cook together

“Children do what we show them,” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell, “and one of the best things we can show them is how to buy good food, prepare good food and build healthy habits. It’s important to do what you can as a family when it comes to food. Remember: ‘Buy it, prepare it, share it.”

To learn more about children and nutrition, check out articles on cooking with kids and getting kids to try new foods.

5. Set a good example

“You can’t drink sugary soda at dinner every night and expect children not to do the same,” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell. “Similarly, if you’re always looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I hate my arms,’ or ‘I wish I had so-and-so’s body,’ children get those messages. As adults, we bring our own fears and worries to the table — figuratively and literally. And we need to be aware of those implications.”

Try to:

  • Set a positive example when you talk about your own body
  • Talk more about nourishing and strengthening your body than losing or gaining weight
  • Remember that every child isn’t going to be a star athlete, but most children can take a walk or find an activity that works for them
  • Put yourself in your child’s place, especially during the teen years

“When you’re a teenager, it’s common to feel awkward and wonder: ‘Where do I belong?’” says Dr. Moore-Caldwell. “It’s also common for pre-teens and teens to believe that they are the only ones having those feelings. As a doctor, I’ve seen the star quarterback, the top student, and the head cheerleader ask these questions. It’s important for parents to remember what that feels like so we can relate.”

For more tips on parenting teens from a BlueCross expert, click here.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.