Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in America. But why?
Here’s the thing—eating is a learned behavior. We live in an environment with food cues all the time. We are surrounded by food, bombarded with food messages, and constantly presented with opportunities to eat. Children learn how and what to eat based on the environment around them. And as we grow into adults, we practice these learned behaviors. We’ve taught ourselves over the years that one of the ways to reward yourself is with food. Clearly, it is much harder to change the environment and the behavior.
Adults who struggle to maintain weight loss over the years will understand this reality.
But what about the children?
Is it the responsibility of the parents to educate the child on healthy eating habits?
…or the school system?
…or the food industry?
Regardless, parents should want the best for their children, and this includes their health. It’s likely that children will look at their parents as role models, so parents and parents-to-be…are you ready for this?
Let’s take a look at some of the worst family dinners:
We all know fast food is unhealthy because of its high fat content. But it is also packed with a ton of extra calories in carbohydrates, sugars, and sodium. Not to mention, it is refined and processed food at its best (which makes it the worst). Yes, it is fast and convenient but there are plenty of other ways to have dinner quickly. Pre-planning dinners for the week on a Sunday is a great way to save time and money around dinner.
First of all, do you even know what a hot dog is exactly? Well, you should. It is a mixture of pork trimmings, turkey, and chicken made into a paste with added flavorings, preservatives, and colors. It usually contains high levels of nitrates to help preserve the meat, and this chemical has been linked to cancer and disease. Instead, choose sausages that are not pre-cooked and are free of nitrates!
Frozen meals or “TV dinners” are popular because they save time and are normally inexpensive. In the past they were packed with calories but now have low-calorie options. However, they are still loaded with a ton of sodium and refined sugars! One frozen dinner can contain double the daily limit, especially for children. Rather than buying frozen meals, make your own ahead of time by cooking in bulk and freezing portions. Then you can take it out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight.
Ordering a pizza is one of the most convenient dinners around and it is often a weekend staple. But this can throw off an entire week of healthy family dinners. Each slice is packed with a high amount of calories and fat. In its place, you could make your own healthy, homemade pizza using individual whole-grain pitas or any other kind of whole-grain as the crust or by buying a pre-made dough at the local supermarket. Make it a fun interactive activity for the family by getting the children involved! Let them top their own pizzas with low-fat cheese, low-sodium tomato sauce, and vegetables like fresh peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
What do all these health-destructive family meals have in common?
All are processed foods high in refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium, with little or no nutritional value!
Remember, your children will look at you as a role model. You may not realize it but your food choices are molding them into the person they will become as an adult. As kids become more obese as they grow, they will become sicker as young adults, developing medical conditions such as pre-mature type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, among others. While childhood obesity is on the rise, there are also overweight children who are nutritionally malnourished, consuming unhealthy “empty calories”.
So, start your family on a new journey of healthy eating.
Do it for yourself, do it for each other, and do it for your little ones you love dearly.