All it takes is a quick look at the statistics – childhood obesity (17 percent of kids between 2 and 19 are overweight in the U.S.), type 2 diabetes (as many as 50 percent of new diabetes diagnoses in children are now type 2), soda consumption (now the top source of added sugars in young people’s diets), lack of fruits and vegetables (on any given day, one out of four babies and toddlers don’t eat any at all) – to know there are serious problems with the way our children eat today. Following are six ways to help you get your child away from unhealthy eating habits:
Make fast food an occasional treat, not a regular meal. Yes, fast food is just that – fast and easy, especially for busy working parents who get home with little time left to prepare meals. But cooking healthful meals doesn’t have to take long if you keep the right ingredients on hand, particularly in you have a microwave oven. Keep stocked up on sustainable shrimp and fish, free-range and antibiotic-free chicken, grass-fed beef and quick sides like organic beans, rice, tomatoes, barley, squash and spinach (stay away from processed foods, which are full of chemicals and expensive as well), and no meal needs to take more than a hour-hour to 45 minutes to prepare.
Help your kids understand where food comes from, and what it takes to raise it. Food comes from the earth, nurtured by sunlight, water and healthy soil, not from the grocery store. Provide your children with a hands-on appreciation of this by planting a few fruits or vegetables they can grow by themselves, whether in the backyard or in a few pots on a sunlight windowsill. Kids are more likely to give peas, squash, tomatoes, strawberries and onions a try if they’ve grown them themselves.
Take your kids to the source. From berries in the spring, apples in the fall and Christmas trees in November and December, there are many crops you and your children can gather yourselves at pick-your-own farms and orchards. Make a point of taking a pick-your-own trip at least two or three times a year.
Plan a food field trip. Do a little research to see if there are family farms, small dairy operations, egg farms, natural bakeries or artisanal cheese-makers in your area, and arrange for a visit with your kids. Seeing for themselves how food is produced can be an eye-opening experience for children who think food comes from cans, bottles, boxes and plastic-wrapped containers.
At least once a week, involve your children in the preparation of a healthful meal. Even toddlers can help stir mixed fresh vegetables in a bowl, while teens can help chop tomatoes or peel shrimp. Kids are more willing to try new foods if they’ve been a part of the cooking process.
Expose your kids to books and Websites that can teach them more about healthful, environmentally friendly foods and good eating. Visit the library to check out books like “The Race Against Junk Food (Adventures in Good Nutrition),” “Eat Healthy, Feel Great,” or Eric Schlosser’s “Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food,” a teen-oriented reworking of the material in his best-seller, “Fast-Food Nation.” Online resources that can help kids learn more about healthy eating include Kids Health (http://www.kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/food/pyramid.html), Smart-Mouth.org (http://www.cspinet.org/smartmouth/recipes_articles/index.html) and Empowered Kids (http://www.empoweredkidz.com/).