As vigilant parents, educators, policymakers, and citizens we are keenly aware of the childhood obesity epidemic our nation is facing. For more than 20 years, we have witnessed childhood obesity rates rapidly expand throughout our communities. Numerous policymakers and high profile leaders have recognized this problem as an immediate health crisis with dire implications. While national awareness efforts like the NFL’s, Play 60 and First Lady Obama’s, Let’s Move campaign has drawn needed attention to this growing epidemic, local policymakers and schools have been slow in implementing changes and guidelines to fully combat this crisis. It is not because they have lacked in effort, rather they have been presented unclear guidelines and conflicting policies.
Today, educators are habitually forced to choose between meeting testing goals for Common Core or dedicating an hour to physical education. However, there are only 7 hours in the typical school day, and for many schools this is simply not enough time meet testing goals. As a result, failing schools often structure their curriculum around delivering higher test scores. In most cases, this means eliminating or limiting physical education. Educators should not have to choose between making sure our kids test higher or continuing physical education, nor should they have such discretion. Policymakers and school administrators must provide educators with clear standards and give them the resources to do both. Given the current economic environment and pressures educators are facing, this is not an easy task. While it is imperative that our children thrive in education, it is equally important that they develop life skills and healthy habits. Providing our children with a world-class education will enable them to complete in the global marketplace. However, equipping them with life skills and healthy habits will provide them with the acumen to make good choices about their personal health and the health of their offspring’s.
As parents, we are ultimately responsible for what our children learn and the habits they develop. While most of us desire the best for our children, we often fall short at providing them with life skills to insure they develop healthy habits. Of course this is not our intention, but we sometimes find it difficult to impart that which we do not practice ourselves. One of the most important and difficult jobs we have as parents is helping our children understand and practice healthy eating habits. In today’s fast paced society, this is a real challenge for both parents and children. Longer work commutes and multiple after school activities are forcing us to spend more hours away from home. Moreover, our hectic over-extended lifestyles make it increasingly difficult to eat wholesome home prepared meals.
Too often, it is more convenient and cheaper to opt for the local fast food drive thru. Though the fast food drive thru is the most convenient, it is rarely the healthiest choice. Not because the fast food drive thru doesn’t offer healthy options. Rather, we tend to like the unhealthy items better. These high fat, high sugar and high sodium items taste good, which aids in us devouring them quickly. As a result, we consume large quantities of unhealthy calories, often right before we retire for the evening. For many of us, this is a day in day out routine. We simply do not have the time or energy to prepare balanced meals at home.
Unfortunately, our busy lifestyles are not likely to change anytime soon. However, there are some simple ways we can practice healthier eating habits. Here are a few we encourage you to try. 1) Pack fresh fruits and finger veggies in a stay-fresh container before leaving home each day. This will ensure that you have healthy snacks available for your extended commute and when you pick the kids up from daycare or after school activities. 2). Make sure you and the kids eat fresh fruits, finger veggies and drink a full (8 oz.) bottle of water before consuming your usual drive thru meal. If you already have good food your stomach, you are less likely to quickly devour the burger and fries. Eating your foods slower aids in boosting the metabolism; thus enabling you and your children to burn more calories during the digestive process. 3) Choose at least one or two days a week to eat wholesome home prepared meals. If you don’t have time to prepare meals during the week, try preparing several meals on the weekend or on your off day. When preparing meals at home, try baking, steaming, broiling or grilling opposed to deep frying. This will help you and you children avoid extra added calories and reduce levels of saturated fats. 4) Sit down at the table and eat home cooked meals with your children. Children will be more motivated to eat a variety of healthy foods when they see you eating them.
You should consider items from all five food groups when preparing meals at home. These items include fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Remember, everything we eat matters. Moreover, children and adults have different caloric and nutritional needs. While meals should be served with balanced proportions in mind, meals do not have to be complicated to include foods from all five food groups. For example, a taco salad made with whole grain taco shells, lean ground turkey, green leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cheese contains items from all five food groups. If you are a vegetarian, you can substitute beans or tofu for the ground turkey. Meals like this can be prepared quickly and requires very little prep work. Of course, most of us do not want to eat a taco salad for dinner every day, so you have to expand on this example and create meals that are desirable, wholesome and quick.
Another way to get the most out of meals without adding unhealthy calories, is to substitute water for sweetened beverages. This is a good practiced when eating meals at home as well as when eating out. Drinking water instead of soda or sweetened beverages provides the body with necessary nutrients while reducing unhealthy calories. Not enough can be said about the benefits of choosing water over soda or sweetened beverages. In addition to making us feel fuller, water plays a vital role in helping us digest food and absorb certain nutrients.