Originally published in Bell County Family magazine.
Everyone is in a tizzy over the government’s healthcare initiative. I won’t argue the finer points of the ridiculous costs of healthcare. I know it’s expensive. Been there, done that on a number of occasions. I am also not casting blame on anyone who requires extensive or specialized care. I’ve been there and done that, too.
However, a better focus may be on improving health. Particularly the health of our children. For the last century, we have measured advancement by how much easier we make anything and everything. Instead of a week-long pony express ride to deliver a letter 100 miles, we communicate worldwide instantly with a phone call or email. Rather than bleeding a person with leeches, we have a cabinet full of medicines to help. Thank goodness! The microwave, alone, revolutionized the time and effort it takes to prepare a meal. Maybe a watched pot doesn’t boil, but a cup of water will in two minutes flat for tea.
The majority of the food we eat is produced for convenience, not nutrition. No matter how “fortified” a packaged product claims to be, it is filled with chemicals to make it last longer, dyes to make it look pretty, and sugars to make it taste better. Once kids get a taste of something designed to tickle their palette, a plain apple loses its appeal. One rots their teeth. The other boosts their immunity. But there is no reasoning with a fixated child intent on that cereal.
So, what’s a parent to do? First, check your own diet. How much of your meals include food that doesn’t come in a box, bag, or can? Experts in healthy eating habits encourage you to shop the “outer edges” of the grocery store and avoid the aisles of convenience food.
Breakfast is the most important meal to get right and the hardest to fix in a rush. Instead of a pop tart, try homemade granola, yogurt, and fruit. Bottled smoothies sound healthy but often have dyes and sugars that ruin the effort you are trying to make. It takes less than five minutes to make your own, and you can throw in a handful of veggies without affecting the taste of the drink. My children like strawberries, banana, spinach, orange juice, and yogurt. Most kids are not going to dive into a green drink, so go easy on the spinach at first.
Buy fruit and small veggies for snacks. Grapes and baby carrots are easy to pack for school and work lunches and don’t need refrigeration or heating to enjoy all day. Prepare your lunch with your child’s, so they know you are eating healthy together. Choose water or fruit juices over sodas and sports drinks.
A good diet is only one step in improving a child’s health. Another important consideration is physical activity. The Wii might be a good alternative on bad weather days, but it is no substitute for fresh air, sweating, and an increased heart rate which can best be found in the great outdoors.
Pre-schoolers and elementary age children can sniff out a playground five blocks away. An hour at the park a few times a week burns off excess energy and helps children develop better coordination. The important part to physical activity, just as in eating healthy, is to do it together. My children love to ride their bikes on hike and bike trails while my husband and I walk.
Goals are important to developing healthy habits. Don’t get stuck in a rut, or those cookies in the vending machine are going to be mighty tempting. Try a couple of new recipes a week and tweak as needed to wean you and your children off the old diet and ease into a healthier one. Set aside one or two evenings a week to get outside.
If you get any pushback, which is always likely from the younger age group, make it a game. Use The Gong Show to weed out bad dishes. Of course, my kids would gong everything but macaroni and cheese and pizza if given the final choice, so for every gong they have to make a reasonable suggestion to improve the dish or meal. It can’t be axed just because it has something alien-looking (to them) in it.
Create your own version of Wipeout and play it at various parks. Everybody, including parents, has to complete an obstacle course holding a water balloon. In this heat, the ultimate challenge is not popping the balloon just for the water!
However you choose to incorporate healthy lifestyle habits in your family’s life, just make sure you do it together. Young children respect the changes and adapt better when they are imitating mom and dad.