With so much processed and convenience food available, many families have lost sight of the connection between food and health. March is National Nutrition Month, a time to shed some light on our food choices and how we can develop sound eating and physical activity habits.
American families desperately need both of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 21 percent of adolescents, and more than 17 percent of kids ages 6 to 11, are considered obese. The number has continued to rise, despite the health problems that being overweight can cause.
While many fast foods seem to fit in our busy schedule, they may be setting us up for chronic diseases later on. Diet-related diseases, such as coronary artery disease, often start in early childhood.
It’s important for families to make health a priority through healthy eating and being physically active. Parents hold the key to making this happen, by being role models and providing a culture of wellness in the home.
One major problem plaguing kids is the amount of sugar added to their diets. Consuming too much can lead to weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The CDC estimates that children and teens, between the ages of 2 and 19, consume up to 16 percent of daily calories from sugars and syrups that have been added to foods and beverages during preparation.
In addition to cutting back on the added sugar, there are other ways that parents can help create healthy family habits.
COOK AT HOME
Food prepared at restaurants is often loaded with added sugars, fats and sodium. Parents can help teach healthy habits by getting kids in the kitchen to help prepare the meals.
There’s a meal maker machine on doctoryum.org, which families can use to fix healthy recipes with ingredients they already have on hand.
OFFER A VARIETY
By offering a variety of foods, kids taste many things, get the benefits of different nutrients and parents will help keep things interesting.
Take kids to the farmers market or produce department and let them pick out one thing they’d like to try. Multiple exposure to a new food can help kids—and adults—enjoy a food they may not like at first.
MAKE IT AVAILABLE
Load up the family on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy sources of protein. Keeping a bowl filled with fresh fruit or a tray of veggies on the counter is a great way to encourage kids to snack better, rather than seeking cookies and other unhealthy treats.
SERVE UP WATER
One cup of fruit juice, soda and sweetened tea often contains all the sugar kids should get in a day. Encourage them to drink water, especially between meals.
Show them the basics of how to read nutrition labels, so they can see for themselves how much sugar is in an item.
Teach kids at a young age about the importance of eating a healthy diet and being active.
Families can make an effort to be fit and physically active together. Plan walks, bike rides, hikes, sports games and other activities to get moving.
When families focus on getting healthy together, it becomes fun and everyone benefits, said Heidi DiEugenio, a director at the Doctor Yum Project.
“We often see kids going home and teaching parents to enjoy good food,” DiEugenio said. “It’s about staying positive and taking that first step.”
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Dr. Nimali Fernando and Heidi DiEugenio are two of the original founders of The Doctor Yum Project, an organization with the mission of transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health. The project offers free online tools to help families make healthier meals, healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes and a teaching garden.
They also offer a preschool nutrition curriculum, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.
otherwise known as Dr. Yum, is a board-certified pediatrician in Fredericksburg. More information is available at her website,