Childhood Obesity: How Can We Improve Our Lifestyle?

I wouldn’t say I’m overly health conscious, nor could I say I am ignorant about what I consume. I’m likely right in the middle of that scale. I’ll admit that I will totally devour a good plate of nachos, and perhaps indulge in a FroYo trip on a Friday night. I’ll also admit that I am not the world’s perfect mom when it comes to preparing meals. Yes, my daughter’s favorite meal is Mac N’ Cheese (although the organic Annie’s kind if that makes any difference) and she might have had a little bit of ice cream last night… guilty.

The other day, I was watching her eat her fav lunch (Mac N’ Cheese – with a drop of blue food coloring because she has to match Elsa) and a slight waive of anxiety passed through me. I realized that I am responsible for shaping the eating habits she will have for the rest of her life. I’ve been so focused on protecting her from all the other harms she may face – dressing her warmly so she doesn’t catch a cold, explaining to her why it scares Mama when she tries to jump down a flight of 20 stairs, telling her to hold my hand when we cross the street – that I completely failed to consider food consumption as a potential threat to my baby girl.

I think it’s easy to neglect our diet because we can’t see the immediate effects it has on our bodies. We can all see the obvious threats to our littles, but its more challenging to understand the long term effects that food choices have on our children. A plate of french fries seem so harmless, but are they really?

It’s no secret that Heart Disease is the number one killer in America and that Diabetes ranks up there in the top 10 as well. It’s also widespread knowledge that childhood obesity is on the rise. Just how much? Obesity in children has more than tripled since the 1970’s. Today, 1 in 5 kids is overweight. Rightfully so, childhood obesity has blown past drug abuse and smoking as the number one health concern of medical professionals.

With some quick research, it’s easy to understand the consequences of obesity in children. Beyond the well known health related ramifications – high cholesterol, asthma, diabetes, sleep apnea, etc – there are some long term psychological effects:

  • Poor body image leading to self esteem issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Behavioral / learning issues – because kids are so wrapped up in their negative self image that they act out and have difficulties focusing in the classroom

It sure doesn’t take an ivy league degree to understand that childhood obesity is a serious condition that we should be cognitive of. What isn’t so clear cut is how exactly we can combat this issue.

Yes, I know we need to have a better diet – got it. As a full time working Mom of now two little girls, time is not always on my side. It can be a challenge to put food on the table, let alone healthy food that kids will eat. However, I know it’s on me to instill good eating habits onto my littles. So how can I encourage a healthy lifestyle in the limited time I have available?

Let’s start by learning what not to eat along with some alternatives. I am fully aware that it is impossible for me to completely ace my children’s dietary needs, so by eliminating the worst foods and replacing them with healthier options, I’ll feel a whole lot better!

Worst Foods For Children (and Adults!)

Breakfast Cereals

Out with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch (sigh) and Fruity Pebbles as the main stream

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breakfast cereals are all loaded with sugars and empty calories. These options are a terrible way of preparing our busy bodies for the activities ahead for the day.

AlternativesBreakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why? Not only does breakfast reduce hunger, allowing better food choices throughout the day, it also improves performance in the classroom and on the playground. Try options with whole grains or oats – check out my list of kid friendly breakfast ideas.

Processed Meats

Any type of processed meats, including hot dogs, roast beef, ham and even turkey, contain nitrates and high levels of sodium. Nitrates are associated with an increased risk of cancer and coronary disease… yikes! Nitrates are also found in kid’s pre-packaged lunches, so beware.

AlternativesNot all lunch meats are bad, check the labels to find ones that are “nitrate free.” You can also check out my list of kid friendly meals for some quick, easy options.

Sugary Drinks

Who doesn’t love a crisp soda? While an occasional sip is likely harmless, its best to create good selection habits at an early age. This means staying away from sodas, sport drinks and anything else that is high in sugar and empty calories.

AlternativesWater is always the best beverage option, but I totally understand how it can get boring for kids. Try infusing water with fruit to add different flavors. My daughter has fallen in love with a drink we call “sparkle juice.” It’s half water, half sparkling water and a dash of 100% juice for flavor.

Kid’s Meals

I’m not only talking McDonald’s here, but the majority of dine in restaurants offer kid’s menus that are only of brown color – hamburgers, grilled cheese, chicken strips and fries.

AlternativesI’m all about going out to eat, just because we are trying to focus on healthy options doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a night out once in a while. Many restaurants now offer additional sides like apples, carrots, etc… order something like this and nix the fries.

Candies and Sweet Treats

icecreamI feel like this is an obvious one. Candies are made primarily of sugar and provide no nutritional value what-so-ever. What we consume should be adding some sort of value to our diet. While special occasions can be an exception to the rule, who can have a birthday without a cake.. come on, alternatives can be used on the daily to satisfy a sweet tooth.

AlternativesCut up some fruit, my little girl loves strawberries and raspberries, and put a dollop of whipped cream on top. The cream only has 15 cals and make the fruit seem like a special dessert. If you absolutely need to indulge in some cookies, you can swap out the eggs and butter for bananas and avocado to help boost the nutritional value.

Also, check out my list of great snack ideas for kiddos!

Children’s Activities

While food selection is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle, increasing your child’s activity level is also key. Again, as a full time working mom, I sympathize with those who lack the time to take their kiddos to a park everyday for them to burn off all their excess energy. As we’re entering the colder, rainy fall days… it’s even more difficult to provide opportunities that provoke exercise. In the near future, I’ll provide a more thorough list of indoor activities, but in the interim, the ideas below can help!

  • Nike Training Club (NTC) – NTC is a free app created by Nike and is great for both Mom’s and littles! You can select workouts based on the time and equipment you have available. The moves aren’t too challenging, just enough for you to feel great after you’re done! Harleigh has became my workout partner and loves this.
  • Hopscotch – put some tape on the floor in the shape of boxes so kids can hop their way from one side to the other 🙂
  • Jump Rope
  • Long Jump – Put some lines of tape on the ground and see how far they can jump from the starting line
  • More ideas coming soon!

Now, I have already admitted that I am not perfect when it comes to preparing meals. Even after researching this topic, I’ve still selected options that may not be the best choices out there. However, I can honestly say that I have improved the food options for my family. I don’t think its possible to make a lifestyle change over night, but I am committed to being cognitive and making better choices.

I hope that by helping educate myself and others, we can all avoid the risk of childhood obesity. While we may not be able to dodge all the dangerous situations our kids will face, we are in full control of what food options we provide. We have the ability to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle. I believe that our children deserve the best – and this is no different. If you have some great ideas and recipes that you have used, I would absolutely love to hear them!

Best of luck to you and your family

– Mama of Roses –

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