Strategies for Preventing Obesity in Children

8:07 AM

Part of me is very sure that I've mentioned what I do for a living (outside of blogging and nutrition education) on here, but part of me isn't.

Have I told you my job title?

I work for the YMCA of Western Ontario, Child Care Division, as a Dietary Planner. It means I'm responsible for every single thing related to the nutrition of the children in my care. Sometimes that means corresponding with parents about allergies and aversions, sometimes it means balancing meal plans and budgeting groceries, but much of time it can be a very unglamourous job of cutting salmon sandwiches on whole wheat into triangles and secretly whisking carrot juice into a fruity popsicle recipe. I'm also not immune to dish washing, laundry doing, and even helping a crying, snot-nosed preschooler fall asleep even though they want mommy.

And I love my job.

About a week ago the C.E.O. of the organization challenged us to brainstorm strategies to ensure that all of our Y kids are on the path to a healthy weight and a healthy life. It got my wheels a turnin'. Because it's my passion (along with breast feeding, gardening, not using conventional shampoo... you get me).

So because a good chunk of you are mamas out there (or so I think? Or have I been sharing my creepy menstruation solutions with a group of dudes?) I want to share some great ways to promote healthy eating with young ones. I don't consider myself an expert in the field of physical activity so I won't be much help there, but I do recognize that activity is also a major component in health promotion. (As is emotional health, toxin exposure reduction, fresh air, and the list goes on.)

+ Gardening education. Start your child's learning at the natural start: where do vegetables come from? A small plot of dirt or even a large container, plus a handful of seeds, shouldn't cost you more than $20. The daily act of watering and pulling out weeds is a great activity for kids of any age. Oliver has been gardening since he was 2 days old. Because of this his favourite food is cherry tomatoes. Like FAVOURITE. Gardening gives children a natural ownership over what they've grown and it makes them more likely to try it, like it and want to tell others about it. Plus that $20 you spent will probably blossom into much, much more worth in food. Make your tomatoes and cucumber into Greek salad. Blend your strawberries into a yogurt smoothie. Make fresh kale chips. Suddenly the possibilities are endless.

+ Talk about healthy eating. I never miss an opportunity to turn a meal into a lesson. If you're proud of yourself for making a homemade soup, tell your child about how you made it. Tell them why you chose the ingredients you did. Before the soup is even at a simmer, explain and show the process to your little one and it'll make them excited to sample a bite. I like to ask probing questions like "What other veggies could we add to macaroni and cheese to make it really healthy?" (Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots...) "Can you think of another fruit that is green?" (Apples, kiwi, melon...) "What's a yummy thing you can eat if you feel hungry before bedtime?" (Blueberries, mixed nuts, cucumbers with hummus...)

+ Get them involved. Showing the cooking process is great but why not go one step further and have your child lend a helping hand? There are so many ways that kids even under 5 can assist in the kitchen. Many fruits and veggies can be cut with a plastic or dull knife, on a cutting board. Oliver loves helping Grandma bake up gluten free treats because she uses so many different flours that he can taste every one of them as she goes. (Hint: bean flour is gross-tasting, and almond meal is delicious. And don't worry, when she bakes for others she uses the utmost safe/clean food handling skills.)

+ Have great things on hand. Our afternoon snacks are the best on days that we've just gone to the Farmers Market. If your fridge is hurting you're either going to offer something subpar (Ritz cracker sandwiches, no thanks) or something healthy but boring (plain old apple slices - come on mom!). If you have a bounty of healthy ingredients at your fingertips you'll come up with some pretty cool and nutritious options. Oliver is just as excited about veggie kabobs as any other kid would be about a pogo hot dog. Or a plate of colourful raspberries with kamut puffs, edamame beans from the freezer and "green eggies" (a frittata-finger snack I make by baking eggs with spinach and then cutting it into rectangles.) The more likely you are to want to photograph it for Instagram, the more likely your child will be excited to eat it up.

What tips do  you have for helping children to eat healthy from a young age?

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