Do you remember in grade-school P.E. when you had to do a certain number of chin-ups and climb that rope to the ceiling, all because the President said so? Well, you do if you’re almost 40, like me. It was part of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition). Today, you might be doing those for the First Lady instead.
First Lady Michelle Obama has created the “Let’s Move!” program to “solve the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation.” It’s an ambitious but important goal, as childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Her website has helpful information on making healthier choices as a family (including a link on the importance of breastfeeding), gives guidelines for physical activity, and talks about access to affordable healthy food.
The site also covers getting healthier food into schools, although there’s been criticism of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lack of funding in that area (see www.lunchboxadvocates.org for information on urging your elected representatives to increase funding for school lunches). But, overall, the “Let’s Move!” program is a good place to start in fighting childhood obesity. The next step is for American parents to embrace the precepts of healthy eating and daily physical activity and bring those habits into the home.
LiveMom asked Deirdre Earls, a local registered and licensed dietitian with more than 20 years’ experience counseling adults and children on nutrition, what she thinks about Michelle Obama’s plan and how parents can bring healthy habits home.
This year, First Lady Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move!” initiative to “solve the epidemic of childhood obesity.” What do you like about the initiative? What would you like to see added?
I like that the First Lady is drawing attention to childhood obesity specifically, and that the foundation of our lifelong eating habits are built when we’re young. Instead of emphasizing processed calorie-controlled edibles, I like her emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains like brown rice, and consistently getting low-fat milk in our diets. I also love that one of the newest parts of her program is called “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” as a reminder that physical and mental exercise are also required for lasting good health.
What advice do you give to parents who are worried about obesity in their children?
Even before children are old enough to talk about what they like or not, build their tastes and diet around unprocessed, whole foods like those that the First Lady is promoting. For various reasons, parents all over the world still feed their children these things. It’s what their (and our) ancestors did for eons of time. These parents never feed their children what’s marketed as kids’ food here. Cereals and crackers made with processed flours and refined sweeteners, microwave popcorn with artificial flavors, multiflavored chips with artifical colors and hydrogenated fats, sodas with sugar or artificial sweeteners, and fast food “meals” that are loaded with engineered ingredients … none of this reflects the simple, whole foods that humans are designed to eat. It’s no wonder that the USA now ranks 43rd in the world for longevity, and we’ve been outpaced by some third world countries. This is the first generation of children in American history who will not live as long as their parents.
Our only real hope is to take and to teach personal responsibility for our food and exercise choices, and to return to the wholesome foods and daily exercise that characterized the entire development of humanity. Teach your kids to think about what they’d be eating if refrigerators and freezers didn’t exist, if trucks and planes couldn’t bring us packaged foods from all over the country, if there were no drive-thru windows, if anything cooked had to be cooked on a fire because stove and ovens and microwaves didn’t exist. Teach your children that to a very large degree the choice is theirs and point them in the right direction.
How can parents play a greater role in what’s served in the schools?
“Be the change you want to see”; exemplify this first in your own health choices and then exemplify it throughout your home. Ensure that your family’s meals, snacks and birthday parties are built upon fresh, whole foods with very few ingredients. Figure out your own ways of making taste-tested, nutritious meals and snacks at home instead of relying on prepared, processed foods. Figure out your own ways of doing this economically. Then share your ideas with teachers, parents, food service directors. If kids are eating brown rice and drinking milk at home, then they will want to do it in school too when the choice is theirs—so make sure your school is offering fresh, local and good-for-you choices, as much as they can. Borden Milk, made in Texas and containing no supplemental hormones, is served in most schools—while kids may recognize the friendly face of Elsie the Cow on the carton, moms can feel good about having their kids drink that rather than a can of soda or sugary juice.
Now that it’s summer, what can families do at home to make better food and activity choices?
Develop your own point system to reward the person who exercises the most regularly and eats the most foods with no ingredient list. Make it a game to thoroughly read ingredient labels and call out real, whole food versus “posers.” Make it a family outing several times a week to walk or ride bikes together for an hour. There are lots of food and activity options that children will enjoy eating and doing. Emphasize fresh foods with very few ingredients and variety. Some other ideas:
- Served as a beverage or frozen into popsicles, smoothies provide an opportunity to blend in and hide very nutritious ingredients that kids might otherwise not eat including flax or chia seeds, a variety of nuts like Brazil nuts, 100% raw chocolate powder, fermented milk items like kefir. When smoothies include dark berries and raw chocolate, the subsequent color allows you to blend in a leaf or two of kale or other dark, leafy greens.
- Bean dips like hummus are chilled and offer another means to use a variety of beans instead of just one; then add in dark, leafy greens like parsley or cilantro and seed butters like Tahini.
- Pasta sauce is another place to blend in a variety of greens, blended seeds or even beans.
- A convenient and affordable alternative to cooked meat for sandwiches, nut butters and seed butters like sunflower seed butter can be blended with raw chocolate (a bean) to pack in more flavor and total nutrition.
- And make sure you keep up that reading. It’s important to feed your body and your mind during the summer months. … Even when school is out, it’s important to eat breakfast every day—studies show that children do better when they start off the day with a meal rich in vitamins, mineral and protein.
Can be frozen into popsicles.
6 ounces milk
1 frozen banana chopped into pieces
1 Tablespoon almond or sunflower seed butter
1 Tablespoon raw chocolate powder
1 Tablespoons chia or hemp or flax seeds
1 leaf of romaine lettuce
Faster Than a Drive-Thru Window Breakfast (or Lunch)
I like the Lundberg Farms Tahini and Seaweed brown rice cakes as they sneak very nutrient-dense sea veggies into my diet without tasting them when I use this recipe. For breakfast, you may want to use a whole grain waffle.
1 brown rice cake
Spread with 1 Tablespoon 100% peanut butter.
Top with 1 Tablespoon 100% fruit spread in a rarely eaten flavor.