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Play dates are a great way for your child to interact with other children, learn to share, build social skills, and most of all, have fun! But what happens when your overweight child comes home to tell you about the fried Oreos or fast food snack he consumed at his friend’s house?

It is clear that parents often have different styles and ideas concerning food. But there are ways to ensure your child’s play date doesn’t turn into a day of indulgence.

Here are some helpful hints to having peace-of-mind during play dates.

1) Have an open conversation with your child. Discuss the food options he may encounter and help him come up with healthy alternatives. When served an unhealthy treat, teach him to respectfully say, “No thank you. May I have an apple or some almonds instead?” He doesn’t need to tell his friends why he is choosing a healthier food. If they ask, he can simply say, “I like this better.” End of discussion.

2) Talk to the other parents. You don’t need to go into details but you can mention that your family is trying to eat healthy and avoid junk food and super-sized portions. By saying your family and not your son, you switch the emphasis from your son’s weight to your entire family’s health.

3) Give some examples of the types of (easy) snacks that you prefer. Some parents may not know which snacks are healthy or may simply be unable to come up with healthy ideas. Choose items that most people have in their kitchens. You may mention apples or apple slices with peanut butter, bananas, low-fat yogurt, raw veggies, reduced-calorie bread with turkey slices, baked potato chips, and low-fat cheese sticks. You may find these parents stocking up on these healthy snacks once they see your child eating them. Everybody’s home may wind up healthier!

4) Ask the parents to serve your child water instead of juice or soda.

5) If your child is embarrassed to have you speak to his friend’s mother, simply send your child to the play date with a healthy snack from home. If your child feels comfortable bringing his own snack, prepare a snack ahead of time so he can enjoy a healthy option without having to explain himself. He can simply say, “I am just a picky eater so I brought my own.”

6) Lead by example: When you are hosting play dates, have a variety of foods for kids to try. Prepare healthy foods you know your children love and create a friendly environment for their friends to discover new foods.

For example, if you know your child loves red peppers, slice up a few and notice what happens. Other children will become curious and may end up loving red peppers too. When kids see a friend eating something and loving it, most often they will try it with on open mind, no force necessary! They will probably go home and ask Mom to buy their new favorite food… red peppers!

7) Encourage active play dates to decrease the amount of sedentary time children have throughout the day. Weather permitting, try to get the kids outside with suggestions such as playing tag, bike riding, shooting hoops or any running-type sport, like soccer. If it is winter time, try inside games like twister, Wii sport or Wii Fit to keep kids moving. Sometimes kids just need a little prodding to move away from the TV and towards something active.

Most of all, be open and honest with other parents. Explain that this is something you are struggling with in your own house and that you would appreciate any help on this matter. You may be surprised to learn that you are not the only family on the block with the exact same issues!

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