Now that we are done with the latest round of three-day Yomim Tovim where large meals, late nights, and nosh bags the size of backpacks were religiously passed around, we can focus on one of my favorite topics: healthy lifestyles.
I have worked as a nutritionist at a WIC office in Williamsburg for five years now, and combined with my observation of my children’s friends, I’ve come to a realization. Most people are no longer eating food, but rather food-like substances, and worse, they are feeding their children the same.
This habit is causing a tremendous spike in what was once reserved for communities less fortunate than ours: childhood obesity. Childhood obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past thirty years. We are seeing adult-onset diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes in children as young as ten and twelve. A two-and-half year old from Saudi Arabia had gastric bypass surgery. At the time, of his surgery, he weighed 72 pounds.
We are not immune from this phenomenon. Although our children are not snacking on the McDonald 99 cent menu, we have been granted our own fast food franchises and sugar-laden, high-fat convenience food, not to mention the amount of time our children spend in front of a screen in the form of computers, smart phones and TVs. They are bombarded by unhealthy food at every turn, at parties, recess, and even the school lunch room.
We live in such a toxic environment, it’s hard to feel that efforts to turn the tide towards a healthier diet could make a difference, but with our children’s and our own health in danger because of the food we willingly consume, we have to do whatever possible to create healthy habits that will serve us well for a lifetime.
The number one rule everyone should follow is to avoid all sugary drinks, such as fruit punch, soda, and chocolate milk. Diet soda is not any better. The spike in blood sugar from the high fructose corn syrup, as well as the havoc played on the metabolism caused by diet soda, causes cravings and is not satisfying. Children should be drinking water and low-fat milk. Keep cute water bottles for your kids in the fridge, and allow them to be used only for water. If water is the only thing available to drink, they will drink it.
A balanced meal consists of a whole grain carbohydrate, protein, vegetable and/or fruit. A serving of a carbohydrate is one small slice of bread, half-cup pasta or rice or corn, a cup of cereal, or a small potato. A serving of protein is about 80 calories, and it could be an egg, chicken thigh, three ounces fish or meat, slice of cheese, half-cup of cottage cheese, or six ounces of plain yogurt.
The serving platters should be away from the table. If your child wants more, she can have another small portion, and then return the serving platter to the counter. If she wants a third portion, that’s fine too, just return the serving platter to where it was, away from the table. Not having the food in front of them allows them to focus on other things, such as the feeling of satiety.
Meals should be eaten at the table, without any distractions, such as TV, homework, or smart phones. With constant distractions, it is difficult to realize that you are full, and you may eat more than you need too, leading to feelings of bloat, lethargy and weight gain.
Snacks between meals should be a combination of fruit or vegetables with a healthy fat or protein, such as hummus with carrot sticks, avocado sandwich, or a handful of dried fruit and nuts. Encourage your kids to eat healthy snacks by having cute, easy-to-eat items available, such as bananas, clementines, raisin boxes, vegetable platter with or without dips, and apple slices (use an apple slicer, and watch your kids devour fresh, delicious apples).
Exercise is an incredible medicine that detoxifies the body, improves the mind and calms the soul. In our times, we have to search for activities to do, so try to be creative. The more you and your child move, the healthier they will be. To encourage movement, buy toys that demand activity, such as balls, jump rope, chalk, bikes etc. Remember, you burn more calories sleeping than by watching TV.
Talk to your child’s teachers to make sure they are on the same page as you. Discuss healthier options for birthday parties and snack times. Request that if they have to serve processed snacks like cookies and graham crackers, they offer your child only small portions.
Food is the best source of vitamins, so have a wide variety of healthy food handy in the house, such as different colored fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and whole grains. However, because it is difficult to eat all the recommended vitamins and minerals our bodies need to work at full capacity, speak to your doctor about a daily vitamin.
There are many time-honored ways to avoid getting sick, with the easiest and most effective one being frequent hand washing. After that, there is nothing like a consistent bed time schedule for both children and adults to give the body a chance to beat off any invading pathogens.
For some of us, these efforts might seem like they cost too much in time and money, but when you focus on the long term savings in health and the ability to instill in your children healthy habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, there’s no time to waste.
I would love to hear about the changes you are making to improve your family’s health. Good luck and remember that even a small change is a positive start.
About the Author: Pnina Baim holds a B.S. in Health and Nutrition from Brooklyn College and an MS.edu from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Program. She works as a nutritionist, a certified lactation consultant, a home organizer, and in her free time writes as much as possible. She is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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