Recipe Tips for Kids Who Need to Lose Weight

By Jill Jackson

Dieting is difficult for anyone, but it's especially hard for children. While their friends are enjoying cookies, cakes, fast food, and other treats, they're stuck with boring, bland diet foods. If you must put your child on a diet, here are some tips and options for making it as painless as possible:

Make Low-Cal Versions of Sweets and Treats

A lot of diet books will tell you to have fresh fruit as a substitute for high-calorie sweets. That generally works, but sometimes there aren't enough grapes in the world to replace chocolate cake. Rather than deny your child the sweets she wants, consider making low-fat, low-calorie versions of the same, favorite foods:

  • Use apple sauce or pureed prunes in place of shortening and other fats

  • Add black beans to chocolate recipes, to increase the fiber content and keep them moist

  • Use half the amount of sugar and supplement the rest with Stevia (baked goods need a small amount of sugar to brown properly)

  • Use non-fat milk, or non-fat yogurt in recipes that ask for milk or cream

  • Mix pureed vegetables into baked goods for added vitamins and fiber

  • Replace some of the sugar with dried fruit, which add sweetness in addition to fiber and nutrients

  • Use egg whites in recipes that ask for eggs

  • Make baked goods in single servings, such as cupcakes, for easier portion control

Use Slimming Substitutions in Savory Foods

It seems like a lot of kid's favorite foods are fried, or smothered in cheese. Just try having a kid's party without pizza or chicken nuggets. Here are some options for giving your child the foods he loves, while cutting calories:

  • Make baked chicken nuggets: Coat chicken tenders with panko bread crumbs, spray them with non-stick cooking spray, and bake them for crunchy, low-fat chicken fingers

  • Mix pureed vegetables into ground hamburger to increase the fiber and nutrient content

  • Combine lean beef with ground turkey to reduce the fat content (ground turkey alone can often be dry and bland, adding a little beef improves the texture and flavor

  • Use whole wheat pizza crust to provide more fiber

  • Use a blend of sharp, flavorful, full-fat cheese, and low-fat cheese on pizzas and casseroles. The full-fat cheeses will provide the rich flavor and texture, and the low-fat cheese will provide volume for fewer calories than using all full-fat cheese.

  • Bulk up pasta sauces with fresh vegetables, and use whole-wheat pastas for more fiber

  • Focus more on non-fat condiments, such as ketchup and mustard, versus mayonnaise

  • If you use mayonnaise, combine it with a low-fat condiment so that you use less

  • Make oven-baked fries, instead of the deep-fried variety: Peel white or sweet potatoes and cut them into sticks. Boil the sticks for 1 minute then drain them thoroughly. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray and layer the potatoes on the tray. Spray cooking spray on top of the potatoes, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then bake at 350 degrees until crispy.

Things to Consider before Placing Your Child on a Diet

It's perfectly understandable to be concerned about your child's health and weight. However, dieting at a young age can lead to growth and cognitive issues, and can also pave the way for a distorted body image, and a disordered relationship with food.

Roughly 95 percent of people who lose weight gain it all back, and then some, within five years. This phenomenon (called weight cycling), usually leads to more dieting, which results in a vicious cycle of weight loss and gain, culminating with the person weighing much more than when they initially started dieting.

Also, what we usually perceive as obesity in a small child, could resolve naturally as your child "grows into" his weight.

If your child's health is not immediately at risk -- meaning she does not currently have Type 2 diabetes, or sleep apnea, or any other conditions normally associated with being overweight-- it would be better to focus on improved health for the entire family, rather than weight loss for the one child. This means that you focus on the entire family being active for at least 30 minutes per day, and create healthy, balanced meals for the whole family. Your meals should feature a lot of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and occasional low-calorie treats.

You might find that simply by focusing on preparing more healthy meals for everyone (and cutting down on the fast food meals); your child will achieve better overall health. By converting over to slimmer versions of your family's favorite recipes for main dishes, snacks and desserts, your child's weight could stabilize without requiring her to skip any meals or give up cherished treats.