Weight Loss Is a Family Affair

Whether or not children and teens are overweight, the whole family can benefit from following some basic guidelines. Small changes can quickly add up to make a big difference. Start slowly -- too many changes all at once create a recipe for failure.
11/08/2012 08:14 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

Though my regular job is helping adults achieve a healthy weight, I also work with teens. Sadly, the epidemic of teen obesity means I can find them anywhere -- even here in Napa. One year, I flew to the Midwest to consult with a group of obese high school students.

I found many common threads between the teens and the adult contestants on
The Biggest Loser
. Initially, both groups:
  • Had absolutely no idea how many calories their body really needs (and how many more they are actually taking in)
  • Frequently skipped breakfast
  • Ate very few fruits or vegetables
  • Ate too much white stuff -- white flour, white pasta, white sugar, white rice, simple carbs
  • Didn't exercise enough (if at all)
  • Often had enough calories in their beverage intake (mostly soft drinks) alone to meet their daily calorie requirement

Just like the adults with whom I've worked, many of the teens had also developed a variety of weight-related health issues including diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and early symptoms of heart disease.

The fact that most of them didn't exercise was enforced by the presence of a television or computer game device in their bedrooms.

As if that's not enough bad news, I noticed another troubling pattern in the younger group. Like many adults, most of the teens were not getting enough calcium in their diet. While calcium plays a key role in muscle functioning, the nervous system and promoting heart health, adults need calcium (and weight-bearing exercise) to maintain strong bones. Teens, on the other hand, are still building bone. Their calcium intake is even more crucial for their developing bones and to ward off the onset of osteoporosis.

Calcium is found in plant foods such as broccoli, beans (pinto, garbanzos, kidney) and almonds. But dairy foods are by far the most concentrated and well-absorbed source of dietary calcium. Perhaps the most common recommendation I find myself making to my clients, young and old, is to aim for at least three dairy servings a day, choosing from low and fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese.

Not only are these foods a great source of calcium, they also contain lean protein. Protein helps build and maintain muscle. It also contributes to satiety or fullness. And when combined with carbohydrate, such as a piece of fruit, it helps to sustain our blood sugar levels longer. This results in more energy -- more get-up-and-go to exercise and stay active.

Dairy Food Serving Sizes:
  • Low-fat or nonfat milk or yogurt -- 1 cup
  • Fat-free or low-fat cheese, such as Swiss or Colby -- 1.5 ounces
Ways to increase dairy throughout the day:
  • Start each day with a healthy breakfast that includes milk, cheese or yogurt
  • Cook hot cereals in milk instead of water
  • Substitute low-fat or fat-free milk for the broth in soup recipes (such as tomato, broccoli, pea soup)
  • Have a smoothie for a snack or a piece of fruit and a low-fat cheese stick

Whether or not children and teens are overweight, the whole family can benefit from following some basic guidelines. Small changes can quickly add up to make a big difference. Start slowly -- too many changes all at once create a recipe for failure.

1. Begin With Breakfast -- changing eating patterns and schedules may require an adjustment period, especially for older kids. You may need to start with a morning "snack" such as fruit and yogurt and work up to a full meal in the morning. Try a variety of breakfast choices each week until you find what your family loves.

2. Practice Patience -- not everyone will love broccoli or fish the first time you serve it. You may have to try a few combinations on several occasions and remember that everyone is entitled to really not like a few things.

3. Set an Example -- if you want your kids to have vegetables with dinner and dessert only twice a week, it's important that you be a good role model and do the same thing.

4. Stellar Snacks -- growing kids have high energy needs, especially when they're active. Toss the junk food and sugary drinks and stock up on veggie sticks and dip, fresh fruit, cheese sticks, whole-grain snacks. You are what you eat -- really!

5. Do Dairy -- make a concerted effort to ensure they're getting at least three servings a day.

6. Don't Be Fat-Phobic -- healthy fats are needed by kids and adults alike. A little salad dressing here, a few nuts there, peanut or almond butter, avocado on a sandwich instead of mayo -- it's all good, in moderation.

7. Time-Out on Texting, TV, Computer and Video Games -- limit their quota to an hour or so a night and encourage more physical playtime with their friends.

8. Get Moving -- encourage the family to spend time together before or after dinner (as well as on weekends) taking walks, bike rides and enjoying physical activity together.

9. Forget the Kids' Menu -- Have you ever noticed that the "kids' menu" often features some of the worst food choices (as well as gargantuan portion sizes?). Next time you dine out, if the kid's menu offers only fried foods, the healthiest option may be to share an entrᅢᄅe with your children. It encourages healthy role modeling and creative experimentation.

10. Talk to Your Doctor -- if you have a concern that your child or teen has a weight problem. They are equipped to assess your child's caloric needs and help you to determine whether there may be other weight-related health issues to resolve.

Easy Breakfast Sandwich

You might want to make two, and reheat the second one tomorrow morning! Add a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, and you have a meal. Best of all, you've met half the day's calcium requirement already!

Yield: One

1 whole-grain English muffin or whole-grain sandwich thin, split
Olive oil cooking spray
1 slice lean Canadian-style bacon
2 egg whites*
1 slice low-fat or reduced-fat cheese (such as cheddar or Colby-Jack)
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean egg ring** and coat with cooking oil spray.

Toast muffin halves until they're lightly browned. While muffin toasts, heat bacon for about one minute (turning once) in a small non-stick sautᅢᄅ pan.

Remove bacon from pan and place on half of the toasted English muffin. Cover to
Keep warm.

Place the prepared egg ring in the non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pour egg whites into the ring. Cover pan and cook over medium heat until nearly set, about three minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the inside edge of the ring to break the egg loose. Remove the ring. Flip egg over and cook for about 30 seconds longer, or until done.

Lift egg from pan and place over bacon. While egg is piping hot, place cheese over egg. Top with remaining muffin half. Serve hot.

*May substitute one-quarter cup liquid egg white or egg substitute for two fresh egg whites
**If you don't have egg ring, you may use the ring from a wide-mouth canning jar, sprayed with cooking oil spray

Nutrient Analysis -- per serving
Calories: 220
Fat calories: 70
Total Fat: 8g
Sat Fat: 2.5g
Chol: 20mg
Sodium: 450mg
Total Carb: 25g
Fiber: 8g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 21g
Vitamin A IUs%: 0
Vitamin C %: 0
Calcium %: 25
Iron %: 6

Creamy Breakfast Quinoa With Cherries and Toasted Almonds

Yield: Six (three-quarter cup) servings

This is a delicious way to start the day -- and it's loaded with protein and fiber. Feel free to experiment with different nuts or berries. It's easy to reheat leftovers the next day. Just add a splash of milk and microwave for a minute or two.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1.5 cups dry quinoa
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
One-fourth teaspoon ground allspice
3 cups nonfat milk, divided
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or dark honey)
Pinch salt
Three-fourths cup chopped dried fruit
One-third cup slivered almonds, toasted

Heat oil in a three-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add quinoa and spices to pan and toast lightly, stirring occasionally until spices are fragrant, about three minutes.

Carefully (mixture may splatter), add three cups of the milk, agave nectar (or honey) and salt; stir well. Heat mixture over medium-high heat, but do not boil. Reduce heat to low and cover partially. (Do not cover tightly or mixture will boil over.) Simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed, but grains are still loose and creamy, about 10 minutes. Heat remaining cup of milk separately and transfer to a serving pitcher.

Remove cereal from heat and stir in fruit. Divide cereal between six breakfast bowls. Garnish each serving with sprinkle of the toasted almonds. Serve warm, passing additional hot milk.

Nutrient Analysis -- per serving
Calories: 210
Fat calories: 45
Total Fat: 5g
Sat Fat: <1g
Chol: 5mg
Sodium: 75mg
Total Carb: 34g
Fiber: 6g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 10g
Vitamin A IUs%: 10
Vitamin C %: 0
Calcium %: 25
Iron %: 6

Cheryl Forberg, RD is an author, James Beard award-winning chef and the nutritionist for NBC's The Biggest Loser. For more information and recipes, you can always find more nutrition and cooking tips at my website or on Twitter or Facebook.

For more by Cheryl Forberg, RD, click here.

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