03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Nourishing Healthy Children With a Dash of Creativity and Determination

As a parent, the scariest thing in the world is to learn your child is in danger. Yet millions of kids are shortening their life expectancy every day in a combat zone of fast foods, sugar, limited access to safe parks and the lure of electronic games and TV. In the meantime, many moms are left scratching their heads, wondering how to squeeze healthy habits into the mix of busy days, shrinking financial resources and the daily challenges of raising kids.

I've been a healthy lifestyle advocate my whole life, but that's because my parents taught me the value of active living early in life. But I found that even with all the years of practice I had under my belt, I still had a lot to learn from some amazing moms with simple yet hugely impactful ideas about how to keep their kids healthy.

Obesity crosses all socioeconomic lines, but the women featured in Be Well: Messages From Moms on Living Healthier Lives, a book I've narrated, don't have many of the resources other moms do. What they do possess is the creativity and determination to guide their children toward the healthiest lives possible. We asked these inventive women to share their challenges, ideas, successes and motivation. The catalyst for change was different for each mom, but they all share the common goal of wanting the best for their children. Women like the extraordinary Debra.

Debra is a mom on a nutrition mission each night. She is not a trained chef, but the Harlem native is a savvy parent. Debra believes in healthy, home-cooked meals that can really be stretched.

She is on a limited budget, yet sets her table for 12. It doesn't have to be this way because Debra is a single mom with just one daughter. But this social worker can't stand to see children suffer, which is why 10 kids from her building have been eating dinner at Debra's for more than a year.

Debra feels she has no choice but to open her heart -- and table -- to kids needing a boost in nutrition.

She noticed kids in her building who had no energy. They were small for their ages because their bodies weren't growing. Debra went to their mothers and simply asked if these kids could come over for dinner...every night.

"I couldn't allow these children to eat poorly anymore. These kids were eating a steady diet of fried chicken wings from a takeout place, pork-fried rice, French fries, and soda. One mother fed her children that exact meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two whole years," Debra explains.

In Harlem, it's very difficult to eat healthy. A lot of parents work as many hours as possible to survive. You can't buy fruits and vegetables easily because the corner markets don't carry them. There are children in this area who have never eaten a salad.

Debra is a wonder because she will go to any length to act as a healthy-food fairy godmother.

She takes buses to far away stores and farmers markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. She makes meals from scratch. Her mantra is to serve her daughter and the other children the freshest, healthiest foods possible so they can grow to be strong individuals. She even coaches other moms in her building and gives them healthy cooking tips.

Debra's bag of magic also includes clever ways to get the kids to eat what's right for them. Her approach is to make eating fun for children.

WATCH Debra talk about finding creative ways to make healthy food appealing to young children:

I believe there is nothing more important than giving our children the gift of wellness. That's why the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation partnered to provide this book free or at low cost to schools, community centers, childhood obesity prevention programs and online. As parents, it's time to take action and teach our kids healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

So please, get your free book at We can all learn so much from these exemplary moms.

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