Childhood obesity awareness month: Fun and easy ways to get kids (and adults) to eat healthier

September is now declared National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. President Obama made it so last year with the official announcement. So what does that mean exactly? Are we aware as a nation that obesity is on the rise for children and teens? I would say most of us have noticed by now. But what can we do about it? What should we do about it? I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have a lot of opinions however. And those are shaped by my own experiences as a parent, personal trainer, fitness and wellness educator, and someone who just loves to study the behaviors of other people.

I am not big on statistics. They bore me. I read them but I won’t spend a paragraph here sharing numbers, graphs and polls. They don’t motivate me to make changes and I am guessing they won’t do much for you either. If you do like that sort of thing Google away.

I can talk about my own kids and my experiences as a parent. (Just please don’t tell them that I do.)

My kids are all very different. They have different tastes for certain foods and they vary when it comes to how physically active they are. My kids love to watch television, listen to their ipods and (gasp) play video games. My kids also have fast food on occasion. And yet all four of my kids are slender and very healthy in appearance.

I am not bringing this up to brag. Because I actually think in many ways my kids could be healthier. I have a teenager who on some days seems to consume only soda and chips. My other three kids will take a fast food burger and fries, or a donut, over chicken and broccoli or oatmeal any chance that is available.

Now my kids don’t live on junk food alone. I do create limits to their choices and I emphasize balance when it comes to choosing between healthy choices and “indulgent” choices. Many times when one of my kids says “I’m hungry, can I have a (insert junk food item here) my response is “If you are hungry then you need to have some REAL food. How about I make you a (insert healthy choice here) and you can have your choice after?” Say if they wanted just some chips, I will give them a serving with a sandwich.

Many people say lead by example. As a parent I eat really healthy and my kids know that I exercise regularly. But that doesn’t necessarily ensure my kids are going to want to eat brussel sprouts. Growing up my parents always had fresh prepared, healthy meals at the dinner table. Even so, as a child, I still had taste buds that appreciated a very narrow list of foods. It wasn’t until I got older (adulthood older) that my taste buds matured. I just started enjoying garlic last month.

So in some ways I think we need to not overly obsess about our kids and their tastes or lack of taste for certain food. Just keep encouraging balance and healthy choices.

On the other side of the coin, if all you are serving in your home is prefab foods that come in a box with flavoring packets, and frozen meals you just pop in your microwave or your oven then it’s time for a serious intervention. If you eat out more times of the week than you eat in, it’s time to get reacquainted with your kitchen. If soda is a staple in your home and fresh fruits and vegetables are not I ask “why”?

When I look at the amount of fake food that our society ingests on a regular basis I cringe at the thought. Preservative laden, sodium pumped, food coloring enhanced, fake food that is nutrient-less, and downright health sabotaging. If you do not have the “time” to cook or prepare real meals for your children and yourself it is time for some education, and a serious wake up call.

Meals do not have to be elaborate. In fact healthy food is simple. Many people nowadays don’t even know what real food should taste like.

A crockpot is a terrific tool for any busy parent. Prep your ingredients the night before, throw it all in, and the next morning before you leave set your crockpot to the desired setting. When you get home, presto, dinner is smelling great and ready to be served.

Need recipes? Need to learn how to prepare meals? With the internet there are no excuses. Look up a recipe for any dish you want to prepare and it’s there!

And, yes, trying to get your kids to eat healthy can be a difficult task. But it is an important one. As parents we put so much focus on school, and play dates, and sports events. The way your kids eat and what they eat is going to affect their health, their self-esteem, even the way they sleep and learn, for the rest of their lives. How is that not important?

I have provided links to some of my favorite sites that can help get you started. These sites also offer tips on how to keep your kids active.  Kidshealth.org is very kid user friendly and Healthcorps.net has a special open forum section for teens to log on and learn.

Get everyone involved. Take your kids grocery shopping with you or go to a farmers market on a Saturday. If you go apple picking let the kids help you prepare a snack at home with fresh apples, some local cheese, and maybe even a little caramel for dipping on the side.  A perfect way to teach the art of balancing healthy choices with special indulgences. The goal is to get your kids to appreciate all food, never to fear it.

When you let your kids help you prepare the foods that they buy with you then everyone learns together. Being able to cook and prepare meals is an important skill for children. I wish I had learned more at an earlier age and paid a little more attention when my parents were cooking.

Also, the less you eat out and the more natural foods you eat with less added artificial ingredients the healthier you and your kids will be.

Change can be hard and I honestly think we as adults are more resistant to change than kids are. Make one small change a week. Try one new recipe a week. Let your kids help pick it out, put a picture of it on your fridge, and get everyone involved in the selection of ingredients and the preparation.

I always say, “Any small positive change you make today is better than what you were doing before.” So have fun with this and your kids may just have some fun too.

If you have any great tips on how you get your kids to eat healthy please share!

Next week we will talk about fitness for the whole family and ways to get your kids moving more and sitting less.

In the meantime here are those links!

http://www.kidshealth.org

(This is a great site. It is really kid friendly and it even has a section with recipes for pretty much ANY type of food allergy and special dietary needs. This is my favorite site for the whole family.)

http://www.healthcorps.net/

(This site is more for older kids and adults. Dr Oz endorses this page and also is a part of Healthcorps.  Discussions about healthier food for schools, quick fitness tips, a healthy topic blog, and even a Teen Daily Strength program that teens can log onto for great age specific support and information on all health related topics that are Teen specific.)

http://healthychild.org/live-healthy/recipes/

(I just got hooked on to this organization Healthy Child Healthy World through twitter and I love them. This link is for their recipe page but make sure you look over the whole site. Learn how to make Tropical Treasure Smoothies, Crispy Crunchy Quinoa Cakes, Speedy Pasta in a Pan, and so much more. Make sure you check out their Articles and Shopping Guides as well. Located in the categories to the left of the page right under recipes.)