By: Emily Koller, YWCA McLean County Intern & Before & After School Teacher
“What we feed our children, and what we teach them about food shapes how they learn, how they grow, and how long they live. All children deserve knowledge of what healthy food is, engagement with fresh fruits and vegetables and access to healthy food.” ~FoodCorps
People today are more disconnected from the food we eat than ever before. Busy families choose drive-through fast food or quick, heavily-processed meals over sitting down to a home-made dinner. While this may save time now, it is costing us, and especially our children, a healthy future. Childhood obesity is at its highest rate ever, with one in three U.S. children overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is associated with serious medical, psychological, and social problems throughout the lifespan, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke, risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, social stigmatization and poor self-esteem. One in three children will develop Type II Diabetes in their lifetime.
We as parents, grandparents, and educators are responsible for changing the course of this epidemic. Our children need to understand the link between the food they eat and the health of their body. Through education, engagement, and access, we can provide an environment for our children to make healthy food choices that create healthy habits for a lifetime.
Education – Eating habits are not intuitive; they are learned behaviors. What is your child learning from you about eating? If your child sees you choosing an apple or banana over potato chips for a snack, he or she will learn there are healthy snack options. If you make sure to prepare and eat a vegetable with dinner, your child will learn that vegetables are an important part of healthy eating. If you consistently balance healthy food with occasional treats instead of erratically dieting, your child will learn how to have a positive relationship with food.
Engagement – To help children connect with whole, healthy food, we need to provide them with opportunities for engagement. Take your child shopping with you and spend some time in the produce section so your child can explore and ask questions. Seeing the various shapes, sizes and colors of fruits and vegetables ignites children’s natural curiosity and desire for knowledge. Let your child help in the kitchen! Even young children can help measure, pour, or stir! Imagine how excited your child would be to see the snack or meal he or she helped prepare on the table. And because kids love eating food they create, your child may be more willing to try a new fruit or vegetable if he or she helps in the preparation.
Access – You, not your children, are in charge of what food enters your house. If you bring unhealthy food into the house, your children will eat unhealthy food. If the foods in your house are healthy, your children will choose from those healthy options. Keep fruit in a bowl on the table or counter that is easy for your children to access for a snack. Try to vary the types of produce you buy to give your children the opportunity to try new things and see what they like and don’t like. Providing your children with education, engagement and access to whole, healthy food can create habits that will lead them to a healthy future!
For more information, please contact Emily Koller at (309) 662-0461 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit YWCA’s website at www.ywcamclean.org to learn more about children’s nutrition in YWCA child care programs.