Weight Management

Driscoll Childrens Hospital cafeteria chef with a boy at the table with a healthy lunch.

Setting Your Child on the Right Path

Nutrition plays a key role in achieving optimal health. It's important to help your child create healthy habits, as these behaviors tend to stay with them through adulthood. By establishing healthy eating patterns and getting regular physical activity, your child will be better protected, both now and in the future, against preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Support Healthy Eating 

As children age, they experience growth spurts, increases in appetite and greater nutritional needs. Development in physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects affects how they feel, think, make choices and interact with others. As children approach adolescence, they have more independence in their food choices and may experience new influences, such as exposure to peer pressure, social media, and marketing. Be aware that these influences may positively or negatively affect your child’s health beliefs.

Children need parental guidance toward healthy food choices and adequate exercise. Without guidance, kids can slip into poor habits like over-consuming:

  • convenience foods
  • sugar-sweetened beverages
  • fast-foods
  • refined or processed foods

Teens and adolescents may be heavily influenced by today’s “diet culture,” which sets unrealistic food/fitness expectations and often leads to unhealthy dietary patterns. It is always best to contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your child having disordered eating patterns (i.e., intentionally restricting food intake, skipping meals, binge-eating) or unusual weight changes.

As parents or caregivers, it is important to help your child learn how to properly fuel their body in a way that helps them feel their best. You may find your child to be more successful if the entire family is involved. Remember: small changes eventually lead to big results! 

General Healthy Eating Tips:  

  • Aim for at least half of your grains to be whole grains.
    • Examples of whole grains include:
      • oatmeal
      • brown rice
      • whole wheat flour
      • bulgur
      • corn
    • Check food labels to make sure your choices are whole grains. Look for whole wheat flour (or another whole grain flour) as the first ingredient in breads, crackers, and cereals.
    • Choose lean meats like poultry, eggs, fish, and low-fat beef or pork.
    • Low-fat dairy is a good source of protein from foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Other protein sources are soy foods, low-fat dairy foods, dried beans, peas, and nuts.
    • If you are a vegetarian, include meat alternatives such as tofu and other soy foods for protein. Beans, peas, nuts, and nut butters are also good sources of protein.
  • Choose a variety of fruits.
    • Fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruits (in light syrup or their own juice) are all good choices.
    • If you drink juice, choose 100% fruit juice, and limit yourself to 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) or less per day.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables.
    • Include vegetables of many different colors, including orange, yellow, red, and dark green.
    • Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables are all good options. 
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy foods like cheese and yogurt.
  • Limit added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
  • Limit fried foods and high-starch foods from restaurants and fast-food places as much as possible.
  • Cook more meals at home.
    • Involve your child either in the planning or cooking process. 
  • Aim for at least 3 meals per day starting with Breakfast, plus 1-3 nutritious snacks each day.
    • Avoid skipping meals.
    • Include at least 2 food groups at snacks, like a protein with a starch.
    • Guard against excess and late-night snacking by closing the kitchen and pantry at a reasonable time every night.
  • Make better beverage choices.
    • Drink water instead of regular soda, fruit drinks, energy/sports drinks, coffee drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
    • Try using fruit or fresh mint to add natural flavor to your water. You may also use sugar-free flavor enhancers.
  • If there are foods that you do not want your teens to eat, avoid bringing them into the home. 

Physical Activity  

Up to year 5, it is normal for children to be naturally very active throughout the day. From ages 6 to 17, guidelines become a little more specific. Children in this age range need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity daily to get the most benefits. Make physical activity fun by finding things you and your family can do together!  

  • Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity at least 3 days a week. Choose activities like walking/running, biking, jump roping, swimming, or playing sports.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days a week. Choose activities like resistance training (with body weight, bands, or hand-held weights) or yoga.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week. Choose activities like jump roping or running.  


Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition (health.gov) 


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