Recipes get passed down through the generations and so do healthy eating habits. Our guest blogger Melissa Halas-Liang, RD, founder of the wellness group SuperKids Nutrition, explains how diet can create a better destiny for your kids—and your whole family.
As parents we strive to raise our children to be the healthy adults of tomorrow. When they’re young, we teach them to apply sunblock, brush their teeth and look both ways when they cross the street. However, the relationship between our children’s current health and the risk for disease (type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease) is easy for even the most diligent of parents to miss.
I recently spoke with a well-educated mother who said the fight against childhood obesity doesn’t apply to her family. To this I replied that objectivity is a challenge, because parents often compare their kids to the heaviest child in class, distorting the degree of relative risk.
Don’t let yourself fall into this trap! As it turned out, this mother was intrigued by our conversation and checked her children’s body mass indexes (BMI), as I suggested. She emailed later to inform me her daughter in fact was considered overweight for her age and her son obese. Many parents are just not aware.
Here a few things to know about three diseases we should all be aware of.
Cancer: Did you know that one in three cancers are preventable through lifestyle, aka good nutrition and fitness? Recent research in the field of epigenetics reveals that children’s diet and fitness level will influence genetic behavior later in life. Many of the foods children eat today are cancer-promoting, not cancer-preventing. The American Institute for Cancer Research offers kid-friendly, fun, tasty recipes and other family resources for cancer prevention.
Heart Disease: Perception of body weight is too often skewed. In a recent study, only 10% of adults believed their children ages 6 to 19 were overweight when in reality 33% were overweight or obese. Even the youngest Americans have precursors to heart disease: 61% of overweight children 5 to 10 years of age had at least one major risk factor for heart disease, and 26% had two or more!
Diabetes: “Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents already appears to be a sizable and growing problem among U.S. children and adolescents,” per the Centers for Disease Control. Children with a family history of type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance and a BMI at or above 95th percentile are at increased risk. Kids' eating habits now impact their habits later, which can increase their risk at age 20, 30 or 40.
Prevention of all three diseases is possible, and it must start today! So, how do we slow down our children's risk for developing these chronic diseases? Here are 5 simple steps to get you started.
1) Check your child’s BMI. Weight is a sensitive topic that is too often ignored. Ask your pediatrician to discuss healthy eating with your child. Before the appointment, visit the CDC website to check your child’s body mass index.
2) Evaluate your family’s diet. Scan your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. If you see fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, beans, nuts, spices and herbs, then you’re golden. If the items are mostly overly processed, with 10-plus ingredients, then start subtracting. Add more whole foods to your shopping cart on your next trip to the supermarket.
3) Cook with your kids. Find a healthy recipe and set aside some time to cook together. Show your children how to make veggies taste good! Include raw and crunchy or lightly steamed/sautéed veggies in your meals. The veggies can be shredded, chopped, minced, bite-size or finger-size. Try out a variety of textures and temperatures.
4) Cut the sweets in half. Special treats can add up quickly, especially when consumed in addition to highly processed snack foods like chips.
5) Empower your children. Children will eat more healthy and colorful foods when given a choice. Offer your children two types of fruits or vegetables and let them choose the one they prefer. Track your colorful healthy foods together and see who gets the most color with the Super Crew Color Tracker.
How do you instill healthy eating habits in your children? Post a comment below and tell us!
Melissa Halas-Liang, a mom, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, is founder of SuperKidsNutrition.com, which provides nutrition and health content, curriculum and workshops to parents and educators nationwide. She is author of the Super Crew books Super Baby Abigail’s Lunch Time Adventure and Havoc at the Hillside Market.