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.

THE CLAIM

Children should be allowed to eat until they are content.

THE FACTS

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.

THE CLAIM

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

THE FACTS

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.

THE CLAIM

Eating sugar provides a temporary energy boost.

THE FACTS

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.