Health & Fitness: Healthy Habits, Healthy Kids

 

Written in the August 2009 Issue
With kids heading back to school this month, children’s nutrition is more important than ever. Summer offers kids plenty of opportunities to get outside, get active and stay healthy. At school, brains get the food they need, but kids are primarily sitting at desks – sedentary and not getting a lot of activity. Simple items such as packing good lunches and finding new activities can keep kids in shape throughout the school year. But there are some tricks to making those strategies work.

In a world where Pizza Hut and Taco Bell operate out of school lunchrooms, lunches are the best place to start when it comes to keeping kids fit. It’s hard to compete with fast food, but Stacy Buzan, a registered dietitian at Edmond’s Central Fitt, offers this advice: “Focus more on meal planning with the younger kids,” she says. “Make it fun. It’s got to be fun for them to learn. I actually have a food guide pyramid that I go over with them and teach them how it works. Then we do games and activities. We just make it fun.” Parents should follow the same advice when packing school lunches.

When planning school lunches, Karen Myers, a registered dietitian with Edmond’s NutriFit, recommends staying away from expensive, pre-packaged lunches. “If you take a block of cheese and cut it into slices, you’re going to save a lot of money,” she notes. “You can literally make your own convenient lunches by slicing lean protein – putting some lean slices of turkey or ham and some low-fat cheese in a bag with some whole grain crackers. It’s much healthier, much cheaper and all it takes is a little bit of forethought.”

Still, taking a lunch to school when friends are buying pizzas and tacos can leave a kid feeling a little stigmatized. “Kids need to tough it out,” says Buzan. “It’s going to better their lives and make them better people.” But a little short-term pain can lead to a lifetime of worthwhile gain.

Both Buzan and Myers are quick to explain that one often overlooked piece of good nutrition for kids is the part parents play in their children’s diets. Parents need to be role models. They need to eat well, and they need to make sure their kids see them eating well. Parents cook the meals. They’re the ones that go to the grocery store. First and foremost, parents need to make healthy food choices for their kids.

Parents must understand that these are the formative years for their children. Nutritional habits are best instilled now rather than later. Says Buzan, “This is the time in their life that children can change. As we get older, it’s harder to change.” Set good eating habits for kids now and they’ll carry them through the rest of their lives.

With kids sitting at school desks all day, activity becomes more important than ever. Sedentary kids are unhealthy kids. But there are plenty of ways for parents to keep their kids in shape after school. “Activity is important,” says Myers. “Kids need physical activity and it’s really easy to park them in front of the TV but we have a huge obesity problem with kids. Just in terms of forming good habits, exercise is so very important. And if parents make it fun, it doesn’t even seem like exercise to their children.”

The effects of a kid’s bad diet can be easy to see. Two large sodas a day can add an extra 250 unneeded calories to a child’s diet. Over the course of a week, that kid will gain one half a pound. Factor that over a longer time period and it doesn’t take to long to transform a trim kid into a portrait of chubbiness. And it should come as no surprise that both Myers and Buzan recommend cutting sugar to a minimum.

Says Myers, “Stay away from things that have a lot of sugar – soda pops, candy and cookies. Those have a place, occasionally. We all enjoy an occasional cookie. Kids need to understand that those foods are for special occasions. Mostly, they need to eat their fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy and lean proteins. Those are the things to form the basis of their diets with.”

Buzan recognizes that staying healthy is a tough job for both kids and their parents. But she counsels parents not to be obsessive about it. “You don’t have to be perfect,” she says. “You just have to try the best you can.”
For more information, visit www.centralfitt.com, call Stacy Buzan at 405-503-2759, or call Karen Myers at 405-613-0518.  
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