While I do not currently have kids, I work with a lot of parents and I observe a lot of parents and what they teach their children about nutrition. Before I begin, I get a lot of heat from people whenever I opine about pregnancy, infant nutrition, adolescent health and fitness. The same way your male Dr. does not need to know what it feels like to be pregnant in order to help guide you through a healthy pregnancy, an exercise physiologist with an extensive back ground in academic nutrition (not jo shmo nutrition blogs) can help you establish healthy habits for you and your family. There are 2 critical periods for when children establish the number and size of the adipocyte tissue (aka our fat tissue) in infancy and in adolescence. The goal as a parent should be to do your best to keep the fat cell size to as small as possible and fat cell number to as little as possible. Here are 8 things parents should be doing in order to help set their children up for health success! These are not my opinion, they are all backed by the sciences.
- In infancy, stick to infant ONLY foods! No need to sneak an infant soda, friend food, lasagna, or processed sugar before 12 months! While it may seem like they can handle it, inside their body react adversely
- In infancy, if you’re a parent who gives your baby anything that is not labeled for infants because you want to or that’s “how you grew up” (only science is now realizing the way you grew up has lead to a ridiculously obese population), please do NOT give your baby anything that has honey or corn syrup in it. I see it all of the time and a little piece of my soul dies because you are potentially exposing your baby to something called botulism. Botulism is a death sentence, if they contract it from honey or any food that has corn syrup because their organism cannot fight it off.
- Go as long as you can (goal 12 months) if you are able to breast feed. Make the sacrifice because the immunological, health, cognitive, you name it benefits far surpass the benefits of formula. Understand that formula is a first world commodity. In 3rd world countries it’s either you breast feed or the baby unfortunately passes. Formula is meant to keep your baby nourished enough to where infant death is not an issue in case breast feeding does not happen.
- Moving away from infancy and into childhood, one of the biggest mistakes parents make, especially those in the hispanic community (It’s the anthropological studies saying it, not me!) is impose the “clear your plate” mentality. We have something in our brains called the hypothalamus and it lets us know when we are hungry and when we are full. The beautiful thing about children (and babies too) is that they have not fried it the way most adults do. Meaning, their brain still tells them when they should stop eating before they get to a place of over eating. The clear your plate mentality breeds obesity. If your child doesn’t want to eat anymore, don’t force them to eat twice as much as they want. Trust me, they won’t die of starvation.
- Don’t make dessert something they can have only if they eat their vegetables. Find a way to make them enjoy their veggies without bribing them. If they eat their veggies every day that would mean they get dessert everyday.
- Which, brings me to my next point, junk foods, processed sugars, fried foods, sodas, etc. are not foods we should keep at our children’s reach all of the time. They do not know what nutrient density is, they only know that those foods taste yummier so without realizing it you are allowing them to build poor habits when you aren’t around. In my house we bring ZERO of the aforementioned and I plan to keep it that way when we have kids. We do this so that when we go out, it’s OKAY to have a fried shrimp or lava cake because it’s something that we do not eat every day at our home.
- This leads me to point number seven. Teach kids about balance! I’m not by any means saying forever forbid your kids from eating junk food. What I am saying is make junk food 15-20% of their overall diet. Fill the rest with a plethora of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-antiobiotic/steroid packed protein sources, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Growing up chips and sodas were something my mom would save for when friends came over, the few times we went out to eat, or for the holidays. I personally, love this approach because what do all of those events have in common? They happen in a minority, meaning the majority of the time you are nourishing your child.
- Try to pack your child’s lunch. It’s a great way of controlling what goes in to fuel their bodies and NEVER let them skip breakfast! Myplate.gov has killer tools and articles to help you choose healthy lunches. These plates also from mygov are GREAT to help YOU as a parent portion out each food group while teaching them at the same time what their plate should look like.
- Bonus: Try to teach them how to make healthy choices and why it’s important. If you are clueless, find a health professional who CAN! When you understand why something needs to be done it’s easier to do it.
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