The terms “overweight” and “obesity” are not new to us, yet some believe they just define physical appearance. According to the Center for Disease Control, overweight and obesity are both “labels for ranges of weights that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems.” These diseases and illnesses-hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes-affect not beauty, but well being.

Now let’s think about our children’s well being. The prevalence of obesity has quadrupled over the past 25 years among girls and boys. About 30 percent of children, age 6-11, are overweight and 15 percent are obese. The same statistics apply to kids 12-19.

Obesity and being overweight pose a threat to African-American girls: The American Heart Association reports that over a quarter of African-American girls, age 12-19, are overweight. We need to encourage our children to exercise and eat right, especially during the holiday season when they have an even greater chance of gaining weight and becoming sedentary. It’s important to monitor our children’s eating and keep them physically busy. Here are some ways you can help your child shed those excess pounds and become more active during the winter holidays:

Use nature’s elements

Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean your child needs to hide indoors. In fact, nature’s elements-snow, rain, and leaves-lure even the most unmotivated kids outdoors. Encourage your child to use these natural toys in order to stay physically fit. Raking autumn leaves not only allows your child to refurbish your front lawn, it also makes them sweat and burn calories. During winter, motivate your child to throw snowballs or shovel snow. Either one allows them to work their forearm muscles and increase their heart rate. Better yet, have your child make snow angels, which works both arms and legs.

Skating thinner on ice

Ice skating is to winter as swimming is to summer. Children as young as three are encouraged to skate on ice. Many places house ice rinks for both children and adults. McFetridge Sports Center (California Park) houses the Chicago Park District’s only indoor ice rink. It is located 3843 N. California. Another indoor ice arena is located at Ridgeland Common in Oak Park (415 W. Lake). At Ridgeland, you can also sign your child up for ice skating lessons. And don’t forget ice-skating in Millennium Park, Chicago’s free outdoor skating rink located 55 N. Michigan.

Alternatives to fattening foods

Find ways to satisfy your child’s cravings without eating from the narrowest part of the food pyramid. For example, make spaghetti with marinara sauce instead of meat sauce, or try limiting your child’s beef intake by substituting leaner meats like turkey and skinless chicken. Both can be ground and put in your child’s favorite dishes. Chicken and turkey tacos are just as tasty as beef, and turkey chili can be just as spicy or sweet with less fat. After your child’s second birthday, you may also consider switching from whole to skim milk. Skim milk has no fat and approximately 80 calories, about 70 calories less than whole milk. So pouring skim into your child’s cereal is an easy way to cut fat out of your child’s diet.

Leave those veggies alone

As a child, I never complained about eating my vegetables because they always tasted so good. My mother would dump fresh-picked green beans into a pot filled with salt pork and an oniony-butter sauce, and my grandmother would pour melted cheese on crisp broccoli spears. Although these tasty dressings might have encouraged me to eat my vegetables, they also stripped them of their nutrients and/or added extra grams of fat. Canned vegetables are also less nutritious, trapping them in sugary or salty water. Therefore, ease up on how you serve the veggies this Thanksgiving. Allow frozen vegetables to simmer in a half cup of boiling water with just a pinch of salt. Save the cheese for the macaroni and allow your child to taste the low-fat goodness of carrots, corn, and cauliflower. Stay away from the can opener, and visit the produce section of your favorite grocery store.

At a time when we excuse ourselves for dropping diets and lounging around, we need to bear in mind the consequences of eating poorly and leading a sedentary lifestyle. More importantly, we need to realize that there are consequences for our children as well. These simple tips will help your child feel better about their bodies and make you feel better about their future.