It’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Childhood Obesity Awareness Month so let’s talk about our kids and their wellness, shall we?
I’ll start this article by saying that I don’t have kids. I always say when other young women were getting married and having babies, I was getting married and healing from cancer.
But that doesn’t mean I have no kids in my life or that I don’t adore them. Just ask my godchildren who will happily tell you that they have grown up with 4 parents, like it or not. I have cooked for them, helped nurture them and love them as if they were my own.
Our kids are in big trouble, in case you haven’t been paying attention. And we need to step up to ensure their futures are healthy and they’re strong enough to take on the challenges they will face. We can’t just wish this one away and there’s certainly not an app for it.
According to the American Heart Association: “Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011.. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.”
This breaks my heart. It should break all our hearts because this…this aberration of our kids’ health is almost completely preventable. We all know what causes obesity in our kids in most cases (with the rare genetic and hormonal causes in another discussion) so I won’t depress you with statistics and statements about obesity increasing our children’s’ risks of disease earlier in life increasing when they are overweight. We all know it.
So instead, let’s talk about what we can do…how we can turn the tide of this nightmare and raise kids that are strong and healthy, developing in them, habits that will serve them for all of their adult lives.
When I was a kid, my hippie mother was as committed to fitness as she was to cooking and nourishing us well. I ate my breakfast daily to Jack LaLanne counting down the jumping jacks my mother was doing in the living room watching him on a tiny black and white television.”5-4-3-2-1” played in my head as I walked to school.
As we grew, she instilled in me a love of physical activity (as well as the need to do service for others, be kind and excel at whatever I chose to do). I have exercised my entire life and it was never about being skinny, but being fit and strong.
Would I have done any of this had my mother not been my example and guide? Probably not. And this is not an “if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” guilt and blame article either. It’s a simple fact that we influence our kids and their behavior.
We have an obligation to them. Once you decide to have a child, you have an obligation to guide them to be the healthiest they can be…and to be the best people they can be.
But here we are, with one out of three kids in trouble with their weight and with childhood cancer becoming a modern epidemic. And so we must take action.
So what causes all these troubles for our babies? It’s the food, plain and simple…and lack of activity. The chemicals in foods designed to leave us wanting more, always more have addicted our children in ways that are so insidious that we can’t begin to imagine. We seem to think some government entity will regulate these pirates of wellness or worse that the little white-haired men in Washington will take care of us. Don’t be naïve. This battle is our to fight and win. It’s us against manufactured food. Our kids are at stake.
Before you even think it, I know. We’re busy; our kids are fussy eaters and don’t like healthy foods; we have no time to cook; we can’t afford healthy ingredients. I have heard it all. And I’m here to tell you that you can do this for your kids. The alternative is to watch an entire generation not live as long as their parents…and no one wants that.
I am not a fitness expert so I will simply say that it’s essential that your kids are active…so you must set that example and see that they’re physically fit…however that works for you…playing together, nightly walks, sports, games, whatever.
My expertise is food so I will tell you what has worked for me with the kids in my life.
I will start by telling you that for me to offer something to a child in my life, it has to be food, not a manufactured item that has a year (or more) shelf life. I know we like convenience, but the best way to nourish our kids is with fresh food (yes, you can freeze some things to maintain freshness and your sanity).
So what do kids need to grow strong and vital? They need whole grains for complex carbohydrates so their brain are fueled with good quality glucose and their little digestive tracts have the fiber they need to work well. So brown rice, millet, quinoa, whole grain breads and whole grain pastas will do just fine to nourish them.
Veggies and Fruits are so vital to their wellness. If you’re paying attention…and I know you are because you’re a parent…you’ll notice I said veggies before fruits. It’s not so hard to get our kids to eat fruit, but veggies are a challenge for many of us. They have less sugar and are more jam-packed with the nutrients our kids need to function well.
With the top-consumed vegetable in America being French fries, you have your work cut out for you but a bit of creativity goes a long way in getting kids to choose veggies. If your little guys like pasta, make a tomato sauce with pureed veggies in it as a thickener. Cauliflower “rice” is so popular now. Dehydrated vegetable slices with hummus is usually a hit.
And by the way, with you as the biggest and most important influence in their young lives, it will go a long way to see you eating your vegetables.
If in the end, you just…can’t…get vegetables in their mouths, then go with whole fresh fruit as a really good place to start the journey to eating vegetables.
In our house, we just put out healthy food with no huge fanfare. We don’t act like the food police. The food is on the table. This is how we eat. We ask only that the kids at our table try a little bite before refusing. If they’re not hungry or choose not to eat, then that’s that. We don’t offer another option. I know that no one is starving to death if they choose to skip a meal. The next time they come to the table, they eat.
We always talked with the kids in our lives about how the food they eat makes them who they are. Will they be strong, lean, with great skin, great athletic and academic performance? We talk about the quality of the fuel that take in as it relates to how they feel. We never underestimated them, thinking they didn’t or couldn’t understand the impact of food on them and the planet.
Most of all, we make delicious, colorful food that’s hard to turn down. We work within their likes and dislikes as much as we can. Do they like Mexican food? Tacos it is. Italian? Veggie-laden pizzas and pasta will grace our table. You see how this works.
We always, from the youngest ages, got the kids involved, from the shopping where they picked out the veggies they wanted to eat to the prep where they did little jobs from washing veggies to setting the table. Involving them made it so much easier to get them invested in the meal. And yes, it took longer and was more tedious as we waited for little hands to slowly do things, but it sucked them in so it was worth it.
Oh…and please don’t feel as though you’re depriving your kids if they don’t have junk food treats like their friends do. What are you actually depriving them of anyway? Heart disease, obesity and diabetes? Sounds good to me and as long as you’re making healthy treats for them, there’s no deprivation anywhere in your house.