The How of Healthy Eating: Lessons for Parents From the Latest CDC Report on Obesity
Co-authored by Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, President of Nutrition for the Future, Inc.
Earlier this week, there was finally some good news in the fight against childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the obesity rate among children ages two to four from poor families fell in 19 states and U.S. territories over the past five years. This is the first major government report showing a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children — the kids for whom obesity takes a particularly gruesome toll.
Make no mistake: this is an encouraging sign — but not time to break out the cupcakes and cancel the gym membership. While the study cannot pinpoint one policy or program that led to this decline, what it does show us is that if child care centers, policymakers, and families all work together, we can slowly change the norms around how kids eat and live and begin to roll back obesity and obesity-related illness. So what can you, as a parent, do to help give your young child the best start possible?
It’s easy to assume that if your child isn’t eating organic steel cut oats with local blueberries for breakfast or munching on a spelt burrito with homegrown organic kale salad for lunch then you aren’t doing your part.
Parenting is tough and it can be downright exhausting to keep up with latest nutrition research and the mountains of parenting advice. Gone are the days of an ‘ole fashioned PB&J every day for lunch. Some schools are nut free and, with an epidemic of self-diagnosed gluten intolerance, even eating wheat bread has become a dietary no-no. Then there is the cute-food factor; Type in “lunch box ideas for kids” on Pinterest and you’ll find hundreds, maybe thousands, of ways to use tortillas, wonton wrappers or pita bread to make lunch more tantalizing to your tot. We seem convinced that if we can just find the ideal recipe or presentation, our picky kids will suddenly love broccoli, kohlrabi, and edamame.
We are so focused on what we feed our children that we often miss the all-important how to feed them. Parenting blogs abound with theories on potty training (boot camp strategies, child-oriented approach, etc.) and nearly every parent seems to feel passionate about how they did it in 24 hours of less. Yet, if you ask most parents about their philosophy on feeding children, you get a blank stare. Unlike potty training or learning to read, we seem to think that raising competent, healthy eaters just happens, despite (or in spite of) our best efforts.
Feeding kids can be a source of family stress and even shame. If your child isn’t eating a perfect diet, it may seem as though you have failed as a parent. Yes, it’s true that parents can and do influence their children’s eating habits. However, feeding our kids, like every other aspect of parenting, isn’t about perfection. Like potty training and learning to read, supporting children so they can become capable and competent eaters does not happen overnight.
Ultimately, the key to getting the “how” of eating right is trust. Trust that they will eat when they are hungry — and stop when they are full. Trust that they can learn to make choices that fuel and strengthen their bodies, even if it means they eat a few lollipops and bags of chips along the way. Trust that, with plenty of fun physical activity (aka play) and a wide variety of foods, children will grow into healthy bodies that are the right size and shape for them.
Eating well isn’t about counting every calorie, gram of fat or tablespoon of vegetable consumed at every meal. It’s about enjoying a wide variety of foods and beverages over the course of several days — and being willing to gradually explore new foods and flavors. It is about learning where food comes from, how to prepare it simply and what are appropriate table manners.
Families, just like child care centers, are influential teachers — and both must step up to those roles. Give your children access and opportunities to choose from a wide variety of whole foods, including lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, crunchy whole grains, lean proteins and dairy foods. Involve kids in food choice and preparation — from what to buy and cook to setting the table. Be mindful of what and how you eat: sit a table for meals and snacks. Make mealtimes comfortable and conversational — without pressure to eat specific amounts or to join the “clean plate club.” Do you ever say “Just have a few more bites,” or “Just try the peas. You’ll like them!” or “You can’t eat your cookie till you finish your broccoli”? Stop!
And remember that as you teach them and set an example, there’s no need to obsess about doing food and nutrition perfectly. With some practice, attention and trust, you and your child can learn and grow healthy together. For at the end of the day, it doesn’t take a CDC study to tell us that there is no exact recipe for perfect eating and healthy living — just communities and families coming together and each supporting our children.
For more information about kids’ health habits and nutrition, visit First Bites and join the First Bites community on Facebook and Twitter and visit School Meals that Rock on Facebook and Twitter.
TOP 10 Healthy Hints for Kids and Parents
1. Get a Buddy – friends and exercise challenges this summer
2. Fruits and Veggies – make this the biggest part of you day… try different recipes and add spices for flavor
3. MOVE or become a couch potato – play games outside
4. Drink plenty of WATER – especially during the HOT summer days
6. Get lots of rest – lights out @ the same time every night
7. Stretch every day – this will help your body have healthy energy
8. OK – so here is where you take a deep breath and realize – IT’s OK… Breath and take a quiet time daily
9. Watch the amount of sweets you eat – moderation
10. Smile – Laugh and have some fun
Easy, Tasty (and Healthy) Snacks
You may need an adult to help with some of these snacks.
with the Nutrition Kid
3. Stuff a whole-grain pita pocket with ricotta cheese and Granny Smith apple slices. Add a
dash of cinnamon.
4. Mix together ready-to-eat cereal, dried fruit and nuts in a sandwich bag for an
5. Smear a scoop of frozen yogurt on two graham crackers and add sliced banana to make
a yummy sandwich.
6. Top low-fat vanilla yogurt with crunchy granola and sprinkle with blueberries.
7. Microwave a small baked potato. Top with reduced-fat cheddar cheese and salsa.
8. Make snack kabobs. Put cubes of low-fat cheese and grapes on pretzel sticks.
9. Toast a whole grain waffle and top with low-fat yogurt and sliced peaches.
#thenutritionkid @thenutritionkid #snackskids #elainehastings
with The Nutrition Kid™
Q: What are some ways to get kids actually eating healthier?
Take kids to a local fish market, talking about fish being heart-healthy for mom and dad, teach them what is caught locally; have them pick out fresh local fish for the family to eat.
Teach kids about grilling and get them to choose veggies to grill; make shish-kabobs together.
Teach kids to cook a few healthy things, over the course of the summer.
Make one night a week “Kids Cook” night.
Talk about the best choices on restaurant and fast-food menus
Expose kids to the 12 power foods, and asking them to find tasty-sounding recipes that include them: almonds, apples, blueberries, brazil nuts, broccoli, green tea, olive oil, red beans, salmon, spinach, sweet potatoes, wholegrain wheat, yogurt.
#thenutritionkid #eatgreatbegreat #kidsnutrition
You may already be adding sliced strawberries to your granola or cereal in the morning!
What are your favorite Berries?
#thenutritionkid @thenutritionkid #dietitian #healthyeating #kids #nutrition
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