Part One: Pack a Power Lunch
The lazy days of summer are coming to an end and back-to-school checklists are on the minds of many. A new school year is an exciting time but often the hectic schedules of drop-off, after-school activities, pick-up, and homework can consume the entire family making healthy food choices a real challenge. The most recent estimates from the Cayman Islands Public Health Department reveal approximately one third of school aged children 10-14 years of age are overweight or obese increasing their risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol as they age. Type 2 diabetes, once rare in childhood, is now becoming increasingly prevalent in children especially children who are overweight.
What can you do about it? One major way to reduce your child’s risk is to encourage and maintain a healthy weight by making smart food choices. Create healthy lunches and snacks for school that they will look forward to.
Secrets for power packed lunches/snacks
- Make it simple. A healthy lunch for kids should include fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods (low-fat yogurt, milk or cheese). Use this guide for each meal your family eats. Cut back or avoid pre-packaged foods which are often high in sugar, saturated fat and salt.
- Plan the week. If your child eats school lunch, review the menu ahead of time and help him/her to make healthy choices in advance. If you send lunch from home make a plan and have ingredients ready to go.
- Keep it interesting. Use cookie cutters to create shaped sandwiches for fun. Surprise them with different shapes over the week. Fill whole grain bread with low fat chicken, egg, or tuna salad with veggies. Lean turkey slices and low-fat cheese also make a yummy sandwich. Whole wheat pita pockets or crackers can be substituted for bread.
- Eat a rainbow. Kids love to dip. Cut colourful fruits and veggies in different sizes and add dips such as low-fat ranch dressing, salsa, yogurt, or hummus. Natural nut butter (almond or peanut) is high in protein and great with fruit and veggie slices but should not be an option for children with nut allergies. Plan a family outing to the local farmers market for fresh seasonal fruits and veggies.
- Pick a theme like Mexican Monday with whole wheat tortilla, lettuce, low-fat sour cream, salsa, brown rice and beans or Left Over Wednesday. Leftovers for lunch are a home cooked meal on the go.
- Snack Attack. Fruit slices, pretzels, whole grain crackers, low-fat air popped popcorn, low-fat yogurt/cottage cheese/cheese sticks are great for quick energy.
- Thirst Quenchers. Replace punch and sodas with 100% juice, water, or low-fat milk. Each 12-ounce can of soda contains 10-12 teaspoons of sugar (1/4 cup). Drinking just one can of soda a day increases your child’s risk of obesity by 60%.
Set an example and make healthy eating a family affair. As parents/caregivers you can have a big influence on what your children think and do. Take action for heart healthy habits now and for the future.
For questions about nutrition for kids or specific concerns about your child's diet or weight, talk to your child's doctor or a registered dietician.
Part Two: Battling Childhood Obesity On The Home Front
The Obesity Epidemic
The prevalence of childhood obesity is growing around the globe. The World Health Organization warns it is the most serious public health challenge of the 21St century. Our tiny island is not immune. Recent estimates from the Cayman Islands Public Health Department reveal approximately one third of school age children 10-14 years of age are overweight or obese. If this trend is not reversed, many of our children may face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and asthma. Type 2 diabetes, once rare in childhood, is now becoming increasingly prevalent in children especially children who are overweight.
Yesterday vs. Today
Thirty years ago our lives were different. Children walked to and from school, physical education was mandatory, and after-school activities included playing outside for hours before dinner. Meals were home cooked with at least one vegetable and smaller portion sizes. Eating fast food was rare and most children ate just one snack a day.
Today, walking has been replaced by cars and buses, physical education and after school sports programs have been reduced. Afternoons are now often spent with TV, video games, and the internet. 8-18-year olds spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including, TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies. Today’s kids are now consuming three snacks per day resulting in an additional 200 calories. Parents are busier than ever and families eat fewer home-cooked meals. Portion sizes have also exploded- they are now two to five times bigger than they were in years past. Beverage portions are also larger. In the mid-1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces. By comparison, kids now drink 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages at a time.
Battle Strategies for Parents
Everyone has a role to play in reducing childhood obesity, including elected officials from all levels of government, schools, health care professionals, faith-based and community-based organizations, and private sector companies. However, as parents and caregivers, teaching and modelling healthy behaviours begin with us. Pledge to make your home a healthy eating zone, reduce screen time, and get your family moving.
- Create meals that are colourful and healthy. Include fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods (like low-fat yogurt, milk or cheese). Drink more water less juice, soda, and punch. Try new recipes to add creativity. Watch portion sizes. Cut back or avoid pre-packaged foods which are often high in sugar, saturated fat and salt. Look for healthier options when eating out.
- Focus on family time during meals. Family meals are a great time to talk to each other. Turn off the TV during meals. Research shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority and try to have family meals at least two to three times a week.
- Talk with your family. Explain the importance of sitting less and moving more in order to stay healthy.
- Create house rules for screen time and stick to it. Health experts suggest no more than two hours of computer or television time per day unless it’s related to work or homework. Children younger than two should be kept away from the TV entirely. Don’t use TV time as reward or punishment; practices like this make TV seem even more important to children.
- Get moving. Children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day, but it doesn't have to occur at once. It all adds up! Use toys that encourage physical activity like balls, jump ropes, or kites. Plan family outings as much as possible. Pack a healthy picnic and head to the beach. Playing football or throwing a Frisbee on the sand is great exercise for everyone.
- Be sure that children get the sleep they need. Most children under age five need to sleep for 11 hours or more per day, children age five to 10 need 10 hours of sleep or more per day, and children over age 10 need at least nine hours per day.
- Become an advocate. Encourage your child’s school to promote good nutrition and exercise into every school day.
As parents/caregivers you can have a big influence on what your children think and do. Take action to prevent obesity now and for the future.
For questions about specific concerns regarding your child's weight speak to your child's doctor.
- We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- USDA Choose My Plate
- Children and TV: Limiting Your Child’s Screen Time, Mayo Clinic
- Chef Solus
- “Let's Move- America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids”
- World Health Organization Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health