Healthy Habits Start at Home – Getting Your Kids to Eat Right – Even When You’re Not Around

Almost 30 years ago, the USDA made an earnest attempt to classify ketchup as a fresh vegetable in school lunches. For obvious reasons, the proposal was widely ridiculed and shot down. In 2004, the department had another go, this time championing batter-coated french fries. So don’t feel guilty about super-sizing your fries anymore; just think of them as a salad-the USDA does.

The food industry has always influenced our eating habits, making it more difficult for parents to control what their children eat. But now the industry’s marketing strategies have become much more sophisticated and invasive, bombarding children with products and advertisements from every conceivable angle, even infiltrating our schools.

The food lobby is a profit-driven business like any other and would never voluntarily enforce non-mandatory health regulations-that’s why we need to demand more vigilance from school boards and the FDA in keeping profiteering corporations out of our kids’ schools. With fast fooderies sprouting up on every corner and a national obesity epidemic that-appallingly-is increasingly afflicting even toddlers, (According to National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, the rate of childhood obesity has doubled in 2-5 year olds over the past 30 years) it’s no surprise that parents are laying the blame with those who have the most to gain.

Certainly, many food companies neglect the social responsibility that comes with the territory, and sometimes it can seem like the media has replaced us as our kids’ role models, but the ability, and responsibility, to instill good eating habits ultimately lies with the parents- the ones actually selecting and buying the food. There is absolutely no excuse for having a junk-food stocked kitchen in which your sole function is that of an on-call chef. It’s especially essential to instill a healthy routine in children from a young age to teach them about and adjust them to good nutrition practices.

If a 2-5 year old is obese, only the parents are to blame for his/her poor dietary habits. But the good news is that it’s never too late to start eating healthy, and according to leading experts, the benefits of doing so extend beyond physical wellbeing to improve general attitude and mental health.

A common obstacle many mothers and fathers face before taking the first step toward healthy living is knowing where to start. With the intimidating litany of books and opposing ideas on health topics available today, it’s easy to think the laws of nutrition have no rhyme or reason. (After all, the medical communities’ position on children drinking coffee seems to change almost monthly, and just last November a study in Aberdeen revealed that slouching is actually good for your back!) To help sort out some of the confusion, we’ve compiled several general guidelines below to help make sense of it all and debunk a few common misconceptions.


Children should be allowed to eat until they are content.


There is no consensus on this issue, but many experts agree that children should be allowed to choose their own portions. The Weight-Control Information Network additionally recommends starting with small portions and letting your child ask for more if s/he is still hungry.

There are two caveats: children should only eat their fill if the meal is healthy (limiting your child’s daily juice intake is an acceptable and recommended weight management method); secondly, coercing a child who’s not hungry to eat can facilitate bingeing and is discouraged. Even if your child seems overly-lean but grows at a normal rate, there’s no reason to worry. If you are concerned your child may not be eating enough, start a log of his/her growth progress to identify a potential development stunt in addition to consulting with a pediatrician.

Lastly, keep an eye out for various factors that can further mitigate eating habits: for instance, children have been shown to eat more in groups, making playtime the right time to have plenty of wholesome and portioned snacks available. A study released by researchers at the University of Buffalo last Friday showed that children also tend to eat more while watching TV. It’s easy to overeat when distracted, so we suggest limiting television time to one hour a night.


Athletic children need more nutrients, particularly protein, in their diet.


Along with watching what you eat, exercising is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and building muscle is just one of its many advantages. While kids who are active use more energy and certainly require more calories to replace it, more protein does not, contrary to popular opinion, add up to more muscle. This misconception most likely stems from the deterioration associated with protein deficiency, an extremely rare condition among American children. Nutritionists recommend a mere 15% daily intake of protein for athletes, with 50% allotted for carbs-the body’s primary fuel.

Another common misconception is that kids who are active need more vitamins. In fact, taking too many supplements (such as iron) can lead to an overdose. Fluid requirements, on the other hand, are greatly elevated during any strenuous exercise, especially since thirst is not considered a reliable indicator of hydration. The Center for Disease Control recommends drinking water every 15-20 minutes before, during and after exercising, especially in the heat.

This brings us to debunk another myth: though water quenches thirst better than Gatorade, sports drinks are better suited for strenuous or prolonged exercise because they contains electrolytes which help maintain body fluid levels as well as the power-fuel glucose. This means that sports drinks not only slow dehydration but also provide energy. To sum up the key points, athletic children need extra food-energy but shouldn’t change the balance of calorie-type ratios in their diet. Even more important than a balanced diet for an athlete is constant attentiveness to his/her hydration schedule.

Tip: Eating or exercising directly before a vigorous activity will slow your performance.


Eating sugar provides a temporary energy boost.


The energy rush we get from sugar strolls by leisurely more than it rushes; the body relies on stored energy-glucose stored in the muscles and liver-so not only is the sugar useless, but it can even increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems such as cramps and nausea according to Suzanne Nelson Sc.D. RD, University of Washington.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how difficult junk-food companies make it to change your kids’ eating habits, your role as a parent holds more influence-we think you’ll be surprised by how painless the transition can be when you incorporate a little fun and variety in the menu! Keep in mind that meal times are a perfect opportunity to embed a positive outlook on eating healthy in your children, so try to keep it fun and avoid conflict. Also, feel free to indulge in your favorite foods occasionally (variety is a great way to build excitement and a positive attitude towards nutrition), just don’t compromise healthy eating right out of your routine!-always remember who decides the menu.

The Impact of an Interactive Health Lesson As Opposed to a Lecture-Based Lesson

We all remember the days of walking into our Health class, a very boring part of the Physical Education curriculum. We sat in class each day and just sat there as we listened to our teacher lecture on various health topics. It was so methodical in nature. We listened, raised our hand to answer a question, reviewed, and were given a quiz or test before moving on to the next topic. Nothing new or exciting, no interaction, just sit and listen. An occasional movie or guest speaker was thrown in for good measure.

Walk into a Health classroom today. No longer are the students just sitting behind a desk listening to the same old hum-drum lecture. Teachers today try to make the lesson as interesting and interactive as possible. They want to get everyone involved and make students really think about the impact of the lesson that is being taught. How do we do this as Health and Exercise Science teachers? I will use a lesson that I gave on bullying, a very hot topic in education today. This type of lesson could be spread out over a few days. It is a powerful lesson; one that I hope would remain with students as they continue through life.

When I began my lesson I showed a PowerPoint presentation. I know that students enjoy looking at this type of visual aid. On my first slide I showed different types of kids, troublemakers, fat, violent, nerd, loser, gay, lesbian, etc. I asked my students whether they would pass judgment or be friends with these types of kids just judging them by the way they look. This is the world we are living in right now. We are too quick to judge by the way a person looks. However as the old adage goes, “we can’t judge a book by its cover”. How would I make my students change their way of thinking. I talked about how bullying can lead to serious consequences like suicide. As I continued going through the different slides of my PowerPoint, I suddenly stopped. I wanted my students to think about a time in their lives they may have been bullied or harassed. I gave each student a sheet of paper and had them write down a very short story on harassment or bullying experience they may have had. They did not put their name on the paper. When they were done they crumpled the paper and threw it at one another in a “snowball” fight fashion. Students read the stories out loud.

The next part of my lesson I had my students stand up. I told them I was going to ask a question about bullying or harassment and they would go to one side of the room if their answer was yes to a particular question, and the other side of the room if the answer was no. By the time I was finished asking my questions there were not too many students standing on the no side. As the students went back to their seats, I could see they were thinking about what had just happened. I could have made this lesson more meaningful if I had taken the opportunity to use the Socratic Seminar to initiate more dialogue between the students. What a great way to keep the interaction between the students going. Putting the students in a circle I could have begun a discussion with, “how did bullying and harassment become so out of control and what are some reasons why this has happened”. This could have led to very animated and powerful discussions. The students could use brainstorming techniques to come up with reasons as to how and why this has gotten to be such a big problem. They could discuss the kinds of bullying, what makes it right or wrong for people to be so cruel, why is bullying such a powerful way to attack, etc. I am sure that the class time would go by much too quickly and I am sure this lesson would make quite the impact on my students.

Having students participate in a lesson as opposed to just sitting there and listen to a lecture is so much more meaningful to both the teacher and the student. As long as the teacher is willing to take the time to plan for these types of lessons, and be flexible in that it may go for a longer time than might have originally been planned for, would make health lessons so much more significant. All health topics touch a student in one way or another. To have students express their feelings and to make them understand that there is a place to voice an opinion in a safe, structured, non-judgmental environment helps them learn how to handle life situations and channel their feelings in a positive way. Isn’t this something we as teachers want to help our students with? We want to be able to learn from negative experiences and grow from them into responsible young adults. Bullying is unfortunately a fact of life and civility is disappearing from our society. We must teach our students that they have the power to turn things around. When a student gets involved with a lesson they feel the impact of what the teacher is trying to get across to them. You can be the judge and determine which type of lesson would be more meaningful and deliver more of an impact to the students, the interactive lesson or the lecture-based lesson. To me I would learn more if I was an active participant letting my voice be heard.

Children’s Health News You Can Use

The Effects of Violent Television on Kids

As a child, my parents insisted their four kids pick one main television show per week to watch and supplement it with educational TV. So the local PBS station was usually on when I was a wee one. The older we became, we were not allowed to watch anything racy, violent or something which dealt with adult topics. But TV in the 70’s and 80’s was a lot different than it is now. My brother chose shows like “Star Trek” and my sister and I chose shows like “Little House on the Prairie”. These were good shows for kids to watch.

A 2011 study showed that pre-schoolers watched about 4.1 hours of television and other screen activities daily. What they watch is as important as what they eat. In another study just recently published, children who were allowed to watch anything they wanted tended more toward aggressiveness, yelling to get what they wanted and had poor social skills. Parents in the group were given age-appropriate viewing guidelines and reported that the children showed more empathy, were less aggressive and had better socialization skills when watching suitable programs to enjoy. While it may be easy to plunk a child down on the couch and turn the TV on to keep them occupied, it is better to take the time and watch television with them. What an adult thinks is funny content can be completely in- appropriate for a pre-school age child.

Taxes on Sodas May Lesson Child Obesity

Most Americans do not like the idea of government sticking their nose in to our pantries and refrigerators. The state of New York has somehow passed some laws which ban super-sized sodas in the movie theaters and the ones sold on the street. In California, a recent poll showed that the vast majority of respondents were opposed to the same kind of tax. Yet, when it was mentioned that the tax money would go toward health and fitness in the schools more than half supported it. This tells us that we think, as adults, it is okay to be overweight and choose less healthy food and barely get any exercise, but it is not for our children. Additionally, the city of Oakland, California gave bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to 15 families last year and about half of the children in those families lost or maintained weight.

Making Health Food Choices Accessible

The lack of grocery stores and even small community markets in lower income neighborhoods is a part of the problem. Retailers do not want to open in possibly crime prone areas. Some small stores in these places barely carry fresh fruit and or other healthy food and snacks. These businesses are where school age children stop to and from school to get something to eat. In some cities, local non-profits are supplying fresh fruit and incentives for small businesses to give to kids, and seem to be working. These are smart improvements in areas where none might otherwise be done.

They Need to Know as They Grow

There are many programs on TV today which are specifically geared to children which teach them something they need to know as they grow. Kids may find adult comedies funny, and especially the young ones, do not have the cognitive skills needed to understand what they are watching. Put aside time to watch television with little ones and ask them questions about what they are watching to see if they understand it.

Personally, there was never a Twinkie, a bag of Doritos or a six-pack of soda in my parent’s house. An after school snack was an apple or some pretzels. As an adult who moved out on her own after college graduation, I dove into those goodies and quickly gained weight. Thinking back – moderation is a better way to go. An unhealthy snack every now and then would not hurt. But a diet which includes junk food on a regular basis promotes a lifetime of poor health and eventual obesity. A bag of apples costs a little bit less than a bag of cookies.