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Involve kids with healthy food choices

According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) statistics, the national childhood obesity rate has tripled in the last 30 years. The rate for 6-11 year olds was 7 percent in 1980 and 20 percent in 2008; for 12-19 year olds, it was 5 percent in 1980 and 18 percent in 2008. This increase is not only alarming but detrimental to children’s overall health and wellbeing (www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth).

I don’t think we need to look too hard to find why this is happening. Physical activity and nutrition are the keys to understanding why the childhood obesity rate is increasing. Kids today spend a great deal of time inside playing video games, using a computer or watching television instead of outside running around and playing. It is recommended by the CDC that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day and this is just not happening. I could go on and on about why kids in the year 2012 are not as physically active as they were in 1980 and what we can do, but I will save that for a later column.

Today I want to talk about how we can get our kids to eat healthy and nutritious meals and snacks. It truly is not as hard as it may seem. I know my kids (all age 5 and under) would love to have a dinner of cake and cookies, but they know in their own words, “That is not healthy.” I knew they understood what a healthy meal was when one of my twin boys asked me, “Mom, for our birthday, do you think we can have a not-healthy-eating day?” I told him I would think about it and, although they had cake and pizza, I made sure breakfast was a whole grain waffle with peanut butter. See, simple.

I have a few rules that I try to follow to ensure they are eating healthy most of the time and would like to share these with you all.

  1. Breakfast needs to be a good start to the day, such as a whole grain frozen waffle topped with peanut butter, cereal (healthy and whole grain) with reduced-fat or skim milk, yogurt and fruit.

  2. Have at least one vegetable for lunch and one for dinner and who cares if it is the same one for both — veggies are veggies. But make sure it is not made with butter and loaded with cheese — a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese can make any vegetable more tasty and exciting to kids.

  3. Try to limit frying food and instead grill or broil chicken, fish and other meats.

  4. Make sure healthy snacks are in the house and also with you when you go out. Good choices are apples, oranges, healthy cereal bars, pretzels, popcorn and dried fruit. I always have snacks in my bag to eliminate buying an expensive and unhealthy snack at the mall or park.

Of course, there are times when the rules fly out the window and we have waffles and ice cream for dinner or frozen yogurt for lunch, but if you try to stick to these tips, you will ensure you are providing your kids with a well-rounded healthy nutritional intake.

There is one last thing that I want to address in regard to kids and healthy eating. I always take my kids (although there are times I have regretted it) to the grocery store and allow them to pick out new things (healthy choices, of course). This lets them be involved in deciding what we will have at home to eat. Then when it comes time to cooking and baking, they actually want to help me.

I feel and have witnessed that when my kids help me prepare lunch or dinner or a baked good they are more apt to eat it. Just the other day I was cutting up a mango (something my kids have never tried) and one of my sons was in the kitchen with me washing fruit and he asked to try it and he loved it.

I have found an online source packed with recipes for healthy and nutritious meals and snacks that you and your kids can prepare together, www.weelicious.com. This site has numerous recipes, videos on preparing food, getting your kids to want to cook with you and a wealth of information on kids’ nutrition. I use it all the time and can highly attest to the simplicity of many recipes and the yumminess, too.

In addition, many of the snacks you will find here are foods your kids love and you can make them at home cheaper and healthier. I personally love the recipe for graham crackers — it got the kids involved in making the recipe and cutting out shapes (an educational lesson thrown in) and they were delicious. This recipe can be found at http://weelicious.com/2010/09/01/graham-crackers/. Look it up and give it a try. You will not be sorry.

Dr. Kirsten Lupinski is an assistant professor at Albany State University in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department. She has a B.S. in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina, an M.S. in Health Education from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in Education from the University of Cincinnati. She has worked in the health education field in various capacities (corporate health, community health, college health and wellness and university education) for more than 15 years. She and her husband have three young children (5-year-old twin sons and a 2-year-old daughter).