As a parent-focused family blog, you can see that ‘what parents can do’ is on the top of my list. But, it doesn’t end there. Parents don’t operate in a vacuum–they have many partners when it comes to raising kids who are healthy, and these partnerships are highlighted here as well. It will take a ground-swell of effort from all partners to make a lasting impact on getting kids to eat right.
What Parents Can Do:
Get Educated: Parents get a lot of information about feeding their babies in the first year, but after that, nutrition information becomes a hodge-podge of confusing contradictions and changes, leading to fear and confusion. There is a lot to know. Registered dietitians who are trained in the science of food and nutrition are your trusted resource– find one near you to answer your questions.
Be Committed to Feeding your Kids Well: Plan, procure, and prepare good meals–this is your #1 job as a parent. Yes, feeding is a commitment, a job, and can lack reward sometimes, but I am here to tell you, getting this part right is so worth it. Healthy kids, who enjoy food and who learn how to feed themselves well for life come with lasting rewards.
Enjoy Food: Food is not ‘good’ nor ‘bad’–it just is–food. We all need to eat, and admittedly most of us need to pay attention to eating better–but we don’t have to be perfect, nor do our kids. Enjoy! Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Set the Example: Behave the way you want your kids to–eat well and move. Parenthood is full of opportunities to show your kids a positive attitude about food, how to eat well and take care of your body through exercise. Your little monkeys will “ape” you all day long–make sure they see the good stuff.
FEED RIGHT!: We are bombarded with messages that focus on eating right–I’m unsure if this is an effective message for kids. My advice to parents is this: Shift your efforts to “feeding right” and the “eating right” will follow.
What Pediatricians Can Do:
Educate Early: Anticipatory guidance is the buzz word for prevention. As pediatricians are the first filter for families, it’s critical that they lead the conversation about nutrition, and provide referrals and resources promptly.
Intervene Early: Give parents the resources they need the first time they ask. Screen for variations in growth and refer to other health care professionals (like a registered dietitian) who can address problematic behaviors quickly, before they get out of control. Give parents the tools (and confidence) to overcome nutrition challenges.
Focus More on the Health Benefits of Good Nutrition: Traditional medicine is reactive; build more health and nutrition education into your practice and it will help parents prioritize nutrition appropriately.
What Educators/Schools Can Do:
Integrate Nutrition in the Curriculum: It’s true: nutrition can be incorporated into everyday school subjects. Really. And frankly, nutrition is more interesting to children when it is presented in this manner, rather than as a core subject. Think about cups and teaspoons in math class, reviewing the latest nutrition research in writing class and nutrition ethics in speech and debate courses. And what about bringing back Home Economics? While perhaps boring for the teen, school-age children are at a perfect developmental age for this!
Serve wholesome food: Get the cafeteria food right. ‘Nuf said.
Elevate Physical Activity to a Required Part of the Day: If you have read Spark by John Ratey, you understand the powerful impact exercise has on the brain, among other benefits. Our country focuses on activity as a means to correct our obesity problem, but the reality is, there are many other compelling reasons to bring exercise back into the school curriculum. For one, regular exercise may foster improved academic performance.
What Food Manufacturers & the Media Can D0:
Stop Selling Empty Health: Is it me, or is the word “healthy” becoming an empty promise? Many people are lured to the cash register by the promise of this word on food packages. Over-used and under-performing, “healthy” is a term to ingest with a grain of salt.
Shift the Target Market: Leave the little ones alone. Parents have a hard enough time getting nutrition right, and enticing kids at every media interaction with food ads isn’t helping.
Change the Conversation: The ‘all or nothing’ approach to nutrition and “good/bad” food confuses parents and loads them with guilt for not getting it right. Guilt = failure = giving up. Parents who throw in the towel aren’t helping their kids eat right. Cultivate messages that couple healthy behaviors with eating well, and we may get more kids eating right and moving more.
What do you think it will take to get America’s kids to eat right?