We’re in the middle of an epidemic. You’ve heard it before, and I think you’ll hear it many more times: our kids are fat. Not just heavy, but obese. I’m not going to throw more statistics at you. They are out there, easy to find; google it if you’re interested. Let’s look instead at the main underlying causes: Kids are not moving as much; kids are not eating well; and kids are not spending quality time eating meals with their families, learning appropriate food-related behaviors.
Let’s look at each piece.
Kids aren’t moving enough. All too often, kids are spending more time with the computer, video game or television (read: sitting) than with a ball or out in the yard. In our house, our kids get very little screen time. I try to find other ways to keep them entertained/distracted. I don’t think that the answer to boredom is a video (although, admittedly, sometimes the peace of mind that comes from the resulting quiet is quite alluring). My husband and I both exercise regularly. We make time for it, talk about it, and include our kids in it (e.g. running buggies, bike trailers, etc). We incorporate movement into our weekend plans. We encourage our kids to be active, signing them up for the sports teams they would like to join, or are interested in trying. By providing positive examples for regular movement, we are modeling the behavior we hope to see in our kids. Kids see you moving, kids will do the same. Families that move together, stay moving together. This can become a very enjoyable way to spend family time. And, as the kids grow, the type and difficulty of the sports you do together can progress. Sure, t-ball is entertaining for a 5 year old, but not so much for an adult. But keep that kid practicing, they will be your softball partner by the time they are in middle school.
Kids aren’t eating well. This is more than simply not eating their veggies. They aren’t eating appropriate amounts or types of foods. They snack instead of eat meals. Their sodium intake is absurdly high. Their intakes of fried and processed foods are through the roof. We aren’t giving our kids the nutrition they need to grow up to be healthy adults. We aren’t giving them the foods they need to grow strong, develop mentally, and flourish. In this sense, parents are failing their children. Proper nutrition is necessary for proper growth, maturation, and cognitive development.
Kids aren’t learning appropriate food-related behaviors. They eat meals in a rush, grabbing something quickly in a car. They don’t sit at a table with their family, enjoying the experience of the meal. Kids are being pushed to eating depending on what the clocks says and not when they feel hungry. As the young get older, we are teaching them to listen to social cues for their hunger, not to their own bodies: It’s noon, so therefore it must be time to eat. Or it’s a party so it’s time to eat. Younger children are still aware and listen to their body cues and ask to eat when they are feeling hungry; ok, they might not use the words ‘feed me’ but crying or acting crabby is a good sign that they need some refueling. It doesn’t matter to them that it is 10:00 a.m.; they want some lunch and they want it ten minutes ago.
Life is busy right now. We all have too much on our plates. When we live overseas, it’s a little easier because you’ll likely have people employed in your home to help with some of the household tasks. This frees a bit of your time so that you can spend it with your kids. Spend this extra time wisely; your kids are watching. It’s not our kids’ fault; they aren’t old enough to be responsible for their eating behaviors or food selections. This is another classic case of monkey see, monkey do. You can talk until you’re blue in the face; kids are going to do what they see their parents and loved ones do. So what’s the thing to do? Be a good example. Be the monkey you want your kid to be. This is a great time to take a hard and honest look at your own relationship with food and perhaps address issues you may have (and not want to pass on to your little ones). Remember, monkey see, monkey do, so let’s make sure our little monkeys are growing up healthy and eating well.