Like most parents, I think about what my kids eat. I want them to be healthy, to grow up strong and to make smart choices on their own. There are trendy, super healthy foods they love: kale chips, which we bake together; salmon, berries, red peppers, green beans, quinoa. They also love junk food -- chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza, French fries, "fruit" snacks (let's be real -- five percent fruit juice doesn't make it a fruit). And I let them have it, in moderation, but we talk about it. Now, it's not an ad nauseam discussion about the perils of potato chips versus the glorious benefits of swiss chard, but it is a realistic discussion. They know I love potato chips, but that I don't them every day. I talk about the foods I enjoy that also make me feel better and keep my mind more focused (salmon). I talk about foods I eat before (banana) and after (plain yogurt, eggs and avocado) my runs to help my muscles stay strong, grow and recover. I believe part of helping our kids be healthier is to make them a part of the process.
There is such joy to be found in food. It brings people together -- it's an opportunity to connect with our children in the kitchen, to learn about other cultures, to discover our similarities. Talking about how food affects our bodies is an important part of that process. Letting our children know why they should take care of their body -- through the foods they choose and through exercise -- is paramount to changing this course of childhood obesity. One of the best ways to send that message is to set the example. We can't begrudge kids their choices if we don't offer them better options.
More schools are working to change what kids see every day in the cafeteria. It's a slow process, and it's far from perfect. Of course kids gravitate toward sugary, processed foods -- for many adults, myself included, these foods often feel like a comfort. If we don't offer other options, there's no reason for them to start making different choices. Bringing healthier snacks and sides into schools has become a bit of a minefield, but if we can step back from the politics and think about the benefits, it should make the process easier. We can also start at home. There are so many factors at play -- food accessibility and cost are often the most influential -- but the more we talk about the needs and the issue, and the more we face it head-on with our kids, the better chance they have.
Real change begins slowly, with purpose and determination. Looking at childhood obesity as a marathon, maybe even an ultra-marathon, may actually help us cross the finish line faster. We can't solve the problem overnight, but can make significant progress if we focus. Some schools have started their own gardens, planted, maintained and harvested by the students. The lessons are endless in the classroom, the garden and beyond. Often, these children bring their garden knowledge home, influencing what ends up on the dinner table. They feel empowered. They feel strong. They feel like they have a voice. It's remarkable how much we can help foster change when we empower those who need it most. Let's help our kids grow up to be healthy, strong and smart by giving them the tools they need today to make those decisions. It can all start with a simple conversation. It's why my kids call salmon "brain food," and why I let them have chips and fries, too. Everything in moderation. Sometimes, at ages 7 and 4, they even choose the carrot sticks over those French fries... sometimes.
To help make your home a healthy one during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and beyond, visit www.heart.org/healthierkids.