What child does not walk in the door after school saying, “What’s to eat?” Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, noted author and speaker on childhood nutrition, suggests the parent take responsibility for the what, when, and where of feeding. The child decides how much and whether. If parents do their job when kids are very small, children will eat the amount they need, choosing from the good alternatives the parent has made available, and form lifelong habits. There should be no more demands to “clean your plate.” Likewise, no foods should be totally off limits, but children should understand the concept of portion control.
Parents should add one more activity to their to-do list before school starts. Load up on round sticky dots in red, yellow, and green. Go through the snack-likely items in the cupboard and refrigerator with your children so they learn from your critique. Label the item with a red dot if the food should be eaten in limited amounts – a special occasion treat. Stick a green dot on “go” foods. And those foods that are less clear, the “whoa” foods, get labeled with a yellow dot.
Keep this system in mind as you fill your grocery cart, too. Having fewer red light foods in your home certainly helps to eliminate the temptation! And remember the tried and true shopping advice about sticking to the perimeters of the grocery store as much as possible. That is where you are most likely to find the green light foods.
Many experts use this traffic light philosophy in books, educational aids, and weight loss classes for children. They don’t always agree on what foods should be considered red, yellow, and green, but each family can establish their own reasonable criteria.
Examples of red light foods include sweets such as brownies, cookies, cakes, and doughnuts; chips; sweetened cereal; soft drinks; and even fruit juice. Although juices have nutritional value, they tend to be high in calories and lack the fiber you get from whole fruit. Set a limit. You might even create a recording sheet, so your children can make wise choices with their red light foods. Some experts recommend the limit be one red light food per day; others suggest two per week.
Yellow, or “sometimes” foods, include granola bars, most starchy grains, and nuts. Unsalted almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts provide significant nutrients but also pack plenty of calories.
Included among green light foods by most experts are vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, and peppers; fresh fruits, such as apples, cherries, and berries; low-fat or non-fat yogurt; and water.
Appropriate eating is only part of the solution. Children need to rediscover active play. It’s become so unusual to see children outside playing in the neighborhoods, that we often comment on it when we do see kids in a yard enjoying hula hoops or zipping down the sidewalk on a foot-propelled scooter.
First Lady Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move!” initiative in February of 2010. The goal of the initiative is to help kids lead healthier lives and to include all adults in the community in the process. In her book, “American Grown,” she cites childhood obesity rates. Today nearly one in three children is overweight or obese, rates that have tripled in the last thirty years.
Experts recommend preschoolers spend at least 60 minutes in structured physical activity daily and at least 60 more minutes in unstructured physical activity each day. They also say children should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.
Older children, up to age 12, should accumulate at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of physical activity most days of the week. The activity should be both moderate and vigorous, and the majority of the time should be spent in intermittent activity. Extended periods (two hours or more) of inactivity are discouraged.
Mrs. Obama goes on to say, “It doesn’t take some stroke of genius or feat of technology. We have everything we need, right now, to help our kids lead healthy lives. Rarely in the history of this country have we encountered a problem of such magnitude and consequence that is so eminently solvable.”
Adults have recently been admonished that “sitting is the new smoking.” It would behoove us all to incorporate more physical activities in our lifestyles, not only for our sakes, but as role models for the children as well.
“American Grown” by Michelle Obama, 2012
“Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” by Joanna Dolgoff, MD, 2009
“Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, 2008
Kale Chips (Green Light)
Wash, dry, and remove the ribs from a head of kale. Cut into 1 ½ to 2″ pieces. Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt or seasoning salt. Place on baking sheet and into an oven that has been preheated to 275 degrees F. Bake about 20 minutes, turning once, or longer if you prefer a more roasted flavor. Bet you can’t eat just one!