For Kids to Eat Healthfully...Parents Must Step Up To The Plate
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—Clean out the kitchen pantry and remove most high-calorie junk food snacks (that means potato chips, ice cream, cupcakes, sugar cereals, soda or sugar juices already in the house). Kids need to have some sweets, but all in moderation.
—Replace junk with healthy snack alternatives such as fresh fruit, celery and carrots, nuts, low-fat cheese, whole-grain English muffins with low-fat peanut butter, and low-fat yogurt.
—Do not allow anyone in your home to eat fast food more than once a week.
—Do not put your child on a restrictive diet. Remember: It is more important to be aware of what types of foods you are eating and their portion sizes than to attempt to maintain specialized "fad" diets. Most "diets" are unrealistic and promote deprivation rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle change and smart decision-making.
—Practice portion control. In 1987 we were drinking 6?oz. bottles of soda with 85 calories; today the typical bottle is 20 ounces and 250 calories. A fast-food cheeseburger in 1987 contained 333 calories; today it's 590 calories. This is part of the reason why we are a super-sized nation. Put less food on the plate – it's as simple as that.
—Create a daily meal plan that focuses on these three key elements: variety — serve different foods from all the food groups; balance —offer enough servings from each of the groups to meet nutritional needs; and moderation —not too much of any one food or food group.
Practice saying "No"
Give yourself permission to say "no" with confidence. You're the parent; you have the right and the responsibility to be in charge of your child's health and well-being:
—"No, you cannot have a second helping."
—"No, you cannot eat ice cream for lunch."
—"No, you cannot have soda with your meal."
—"No, you cannot have a car ride to the corner."
—"No, you cannot watch any more TV today."
Become an advocate for healthy food in school
As a parent, you do have some clout over what your children eat at school. Of course, you can pack up their lunch bag with nutritious foods, but if non-nutritious foods are offered for sale to all the other children, it will be hard for many youngsters to resist dumping their homemade whole wheat veggie wrap for a Twinkie. For this reason, many parent groups have made changes in the way food is prepared in their school cafeterias. A sampling of these efforts include:
—At Promise Academy charter school in Harlem, all meals served in the cafeteria are cooked from scratch, and the menu (heavily subsidized by private donations), now includes dishes like turkey lasagna with a side of fresh zucchini.
—In Santa Monica, Calif., there is a salad bar at every school in the district, with produce brought in from the local farmer's market.
—At Grady High School, outside Atlanta, the student body president, a vegetarian, persuaded the company that runs the cafeteria to provide tofu stir fry, veggie burgers and hummus.
—In Irvington, N.Y., a group of committed parents established a No Junk Food Week, where all unhealthy food was removed from the cafeteria and replaced with offerings from a local chef called Sushi Mike and donations from a nearby Trader Joe's.
Because one of the major sources of fat and sugar in a child's diet comes from school lunches, you might begin fighting for your child's health by talking with school administrators about ripping out the snack-laden vending machines and removing high-calorie, high-fat foods from the menu. That alone will help lots of kids resist the temptations that spoil even the best of intentions.
Is it easy to keep our children trim and fit while living in a junk-food, high-calorie world? No, not at all. But that's why our kids can't do it alone. They need our guidance, support, and example to help them establish lifestyle habits that will lead to a healthy, long life.
Tony Sparber is the founder/owner of three New Image Camps: Camp Pocono Trails, PA; Camp Vanguard, FL; and Camp Ojai, CA — designed to provide comprehensive summer weight-loss programs for pre-teens and teenagers. For more information, call 1-800-365-0556 or visit www.newimagecamp.com.