Scratch that. More like a bowlful of a favorite fruit or a moderately sized, but still-tantalizing dessert.
Everett Greenleaf, a Troy father of two, chuckles after making the joke.
"Our eating habits - though they aren't the best and we're not skinny and we're not going to be on a cover of a magazine anytime soon - well, we know what foods are good and what foods are not," he says.
Like many parents, Greenleaf knows that America's kids are bulking up to unhealthy sizes. In fact, 1 in 6 is considered obese these days - a threefold increase since 1980, according to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General. He turned to Beaumont Hospitals' Healthy Kids Program last year to learn more about healthy eating habits and to chip away at some of the family's extra pounds.
"One of the greatest fights I fight as a primary care physician is the fight against obesity. ... I fail far more often than I succeed," says Dr. T. Jann Caison-Sorey, who practices in Detroit and who helped develop a curriculum for Blue Cross Blue Shield Association doctors to help the families of obese children.
Part of the problem, she and others say, is that even parents who worry about their child's extra pounds are stymied by what to do about it.
Who can blame them? How does one encourage without hurting their feelings? Inform without setting off debilitating self-doubt or even eating disorders?
Some kids are already painfully aware of their weight problem from classmates and peers, says Jacqueline Odom, director of psychology with the Healthy Kids Program.
"They're being hurt. They're being rejected," she says. "They're so focused on weight, shape and appearance that they lose sight of everything else. They see themselves as worthless people because they are fat."
Nagging doesn't help
The first step, say the experts, is to stop nagging.
It doesn't work. It can even make matters worse.
In 2004, University of Minnesota researchers turned to parents who had been interviewed in 1999 about their overweight children. About half the parents in the first survey accurately saw their kids as being overweight; the other half did not see weight as an issue. But five years later, the researchers found that those who had originally and correctly assessed their children as overweight still hadn't added more fruits and vegetables to their family's diet and hadn't reduced their intake of soft drinks, salty snacks, candy and fast food. They also did not have more family meals together, become more physically active or cut down on television time.
In other words, those who saw their children as overweight didn't make choices that could have made a difference.
Worse, they encouraged their children to diet, one of the worst things a developing child can do, according to child nutrition experts.
Sixty-six percent of girls whose parents saw them as overweight in 1999 and urged them to diet were still overweight in 2004 compared with 44 percent of those who were not encouraged to diet.
"The constant criticizing means they're going to act out. ... They'll do it behind their back. I tell parents they'll find wrappers under their bed, in their closet," Odom said.
Exercise frame of mind
Ken Aubuchon knows.
Being called "fatso" and "Pugsley" as a kid growing up in Ferndale, Mich., just drove him deeper into the refrigerator. He topped 200 pounds by junior high.
As a father, Aubuchon began following his family's diet of the 1970s and '80s, turning to hot dogs and macaroni and cheese out of convenience.
When his stepson, Jacob Cloyd, was teased at school because of the pounds he'd gained, Aubuchon recalled his own experiences: "You can't prescribe a diet to a kid. ... It has to be fun. They have to have an interest in it, and they have to believe they can do it."
So the two began working out together and Jacob, now 14, spends his year playing football, baseball and other sports. And 44-year-old Aubuchon, now a fit 173 pounds, has begun his own business - New Way Yoga and Meditation - coaching other families about weight and health issues.
Jacob says he loves being fit because he is stronger and feels better.
"It upset me a lot," he says of the words his peers threw at him. "Ken told me to stop listening to others; he was right."
His mother isn't surprised by Jacob's comments.
"Once he started into sports, he started to realize how important it was on his own to eat right and take care of his body," says Trudi Cloyd, who also slimmed down after fighting weight problems while growing up in Sterling Heights.
The Madison Heights family now makes decisions together about what's for dinner and what they do during free time. Last week, for example, they biked to Jacob's baseball game.
"Sure, we have our occasional chocolate chip cookie fiending, but that's OK. We also don't stress about it too much," says Cloyd, 40.
In it together
Parents also must realize that changes must start with them, the parents.
Encouraging more activity means heading to the park as a family, or breaking out Mom's and Dad's bikes, too. More veggies for the child means more veggies for everyone at the table.
"It's so important that parents not criticize their kids, even if they look terrible in what they're wearing. You've got to let it go. ... They have to come to it on their own," Odom says.
For his part, Greenleaf isn't sure what was more difficult - letting his two daughters opt for play rather than homework or letting go of the stress he had watching as 10-year-old Vivienne packed on a few extra pounds.
But the shift in thinking made all the difference.
"Our life is pretty regimented, and we are busy. In order for me to keep order, to keep us on schedule, we'd come home and go right to homework and I'd give them a snack," he says. A staff member with the Beaumont program changed his mind about that.
"I said, 'What kind of exercise program does Vivienne need to be on?' He said, 'She doesn't need to be on a program, she needs to go out and play.'"
The Greenleaf family bought a trampoline, and Vivienne and her sister, Emma, 12, are challenged to see how many steps they can rack up on new pedometers. And acting gigs at a local theater company keep Vivienne's mind and body engaged, Greenleaf says.
Vivienne's weight and height changed over several months as she hit growth spurts. She's more energetic and stronger. Her father has grown less concerned about the numbers on a scale and more about cultivating healthy routines that lead to lifetime weight control and contentment.
"You know you want to help your daughter feel as secure and be happy, just as you are," he says.
Do's and don'ts
Trying to help your kids trim down? Here's some advice from the experts:
- Remember that you are their biggest role model - good and bad.
- Focus on health, rather than shape or size.
- Frame it positively. Work toward a "healthy weight" rather than fight "fat" or "obesity."
- Rather than denying a food, focus on portion control and moderation.
- Make changes for the whole family. More veggies means more veggies for everybody.
- Don't use food as a comfort or reward. Good grades could mean a day trip rock-climbing or horseback riding - not a triple scoop of ice cream.
- Cut down on sugary drinks. Nothing hydrates like a glass of water on a hot day.
- Reinforce that you love them no matter what the scales say.