Tag Archives: childhood obesity

Healthy Kids are Confident Kids!

healthy-confident-kidWhen faced with an epidemic, adults mobilize! We gather information, brainstorm possible solutions, confer with experts. We hear daily that there is an epidemic of obesity facing the United States, but what are we doing about it? The media tells us of the problems caused by overweight and obesity. Doctors tell us we need to lose weight. Nutritionists tell us we need to eat healthy food. We are told the bad news and what we need to do, but including our children in the solution is important. If adults are struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, what is happening with our children? In 2006, one out of every 6 third graders in Ohio was affected by obesity, and by age 5, children have developed a positive or negative body image. But, there is good news out there, and easy steps one can take to increase the lifelong health of a child.

Early childhood educators are responsible for much of what is consumed by young children, and it’s important that they stay informed. When parents were surveyed regarding who they turn to with questions regarding child development, child care providers were in the top 3. Children can be in early care and education programs 10 or more hours a day. Because children admire the adults in their lives and look to them as role models, we can assist children in developing healthy habits while they are young. We can educate parents on the importance of healthy foods and activity. If parents pack lunch for their children, we can ask that they include food from each of the food groups, and supplement when they don’t.

So what can you do? Provide fresh fruit instead of fruit canned in heavy syrup – with meals and at snack time! Offer baked chicken instead of chicken nuggets. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children do not need to be offered fruit juice, so offer children water if they are thirsty and milk at meal times. Make these drinks fun! Put lemon or orange slices in water to add some flavor, or grow mint in a window bed in your classroom and put mint leaves in the water. Research has shown that if children assist in gardening, it increases their competence and confidence.  Children are also more likely to try new food if they have assisted in the growing process. Herbs grow well indoors, but if you’ve got the space for it outdoors, try something like pumpkins or strawberries.

As educators, it is our responsibility to educate the whole child, which includes making sure we are providing a healthy environment and advocating for children to be in a healthy environment no matter where they are, at the program or at home.

What’s in a Snack Pack?

As I was strolling through the grocery store this weekend I found “snack packs” of everything: pudding, crackers, apple slices and cookies. I overheard young children repeatedly asking their parent to buy the cookies because “they were on sale.”  Now, I am guilty of buying snack packs for myself to include in my lunch or have on hand for a quick snack. They’re very convenient for the on-the-go times that are increasingly common these days: parents are busy with late work schedules, taking children to soccer practice, music lessons and making one last stop at the grocery store for milk. Marketing specialists and manufacturers feed into this phenomenon by offering 100-calorie snack packs and lowering the prices of snack packs to less than a buck.

This makes me question what value is placed on snacks these days. The word “snacking” creates the idea that it is bad, a treat or a small amount of food eaten between meals. Experts in the field of nutrition are encouraging people to eat several small meals throughout the day, but they do not use the word “snack” in most of their literature or research findings. It’s about having small meals, or small amounts of the things we know aren’t the best for our health. Young children are always on the move and use energy much quicker than adults, so it is essential that snacks and small meals are provided for children on a regular basis. They need to re-fuel throughout the day to maintain their energy and eagerness to learn.

Mary Bellizzi, an expert with the International Obesity Task Force, estimates that “22 million of the world’s children under 5 are overweight or obese.” As the obesity rate continues to rise we must be conscious of how we view snacking and how many snacks we offer to our children. Are they hungry? Have they asked for something to eat, and if so, what is appropriate to give to them? Take time to think about your eating schedule as well as those of the children in your care. We’ve all heard that we’ll “ruin our dinner” if we have a snack beforehand, so make sure that meals and snacks are provided in a sensible way, following a routine. For instance, in child care centers a morning snack is provided midway between breakfast and lunch, and afternoon snack is offered approximately three hours after lunch. The other thing to bear in mind is that just because these foods are offered doesn’t mean they have to be eaten: children will let you know when they are hungry.

Keep these important suggestions in mind when offering snacks to the children:

  1. Always look for snacks that have high nutritional value (fiber, vitamins, calcium).
  2. Snacks should be dispersed in small amounts.
  3. Snacks should never be used as reward or withheld as punishment.
  4. Snacking should not be a way to keep kids busy.
  5. Re-visit the type of snack offered and broaden snack choices. Some non-traditional “snacks” could be the best option (dried fruit, multi-grain cereal).

The next time you are looking for a snack why not reach for a stalk of celery? These come in “snack packs,” too.