Weighing in on obesity: Helping children at home and away

8:33 AM, May 16, 2010   |    comments
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For the Bryant family in Knox County, preparing healthy food at home has been a gradual, and difficult, process.

During the week, dad John has the cooking duties.

"We're eating more vegetables, we're grilling most everything, we eat a lot more chicken, ground turkey," he said.

The move came after his wife, Gena, discovered problems with her health.

"I decided to make a change when I went to the doctor and my bloodwork was abnormal," Gena Bryant said. "Just having that diagnosis on you really, really, it clicks in your head that it's time."

Plus, the Bryants' 12-year-old daughter was starting to see her health suffer, too.

So, out when the junk and in came the healthier fare.

"It's all been kind of hard, but some things have been easier than others, like not snacking every five minutes, just having your own meal and then have a snack every two hours until your next meal," Lauren said.

The pre-teen admits it's often difficult to stick to a plan when her classmates are eating pizza and ice cream, but she says she has come to realize that her body handles food differently than some of her friends.

The Bryants pack lunches for Lauren and are able to keep an eye on what their daughter eats at the house, but they also have made sure to watch what they all eat when they leave home.

One East Tennessee Children's Hospital registered dietician says it can be challenging, but it's not impossible.

Jennifer Nicklas had some advice for choosing healthier options at the grocery store, drive-thru and vending machines.

Nicklas says to start on the right side of the grocery store and make your way around the perimeter, where you'll find fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy.

Once you hit the inner aisles, you'll find more processed foods. There, she says it is important to check the nutrition facts label on the sides of the packages to look for serving size and the fat, calorie and sugar content.

At a vending machine, it becomes more difficult because the labels are not visible. Instead, Nicklas says to look for key words such as "baked" or "wheat." Some places even have entire vending machines devoted solely to healthy food.

If you're eating on the run and need to pick up food at a drive-thru, Nicklas says to choose the grilled entree options. It's also helpful to choose fruit or the baked potato as a side rather than fries. But, if you do want to splurge a bit, Nicklas says you may want to consider ordering the kid's meal, which comes with more appropriate portion sizes anyway.

For the Bryants, it's all about sticking to the plan as a family, and so far, it's working.

Lauren's health has improved to the point that she no longer has to take medication, and now she's staying healthy on her own.

"It was hard, but now it's getting easier because I've accomplished so much," she said.

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