Childhood Health from a Holistic Perspective
By Dr. Michelle Klein
It’s frightening to read statistics that suggest children in the United States are not expected to live past the generation before them.
The United States is unique in that it is the world-leader when it comes to children who are both malnourished and obese. These seemingly contradictory facts suggest that what our children eat is just as important as how much. Many children eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, cookies for a snack, and pasta for dinner. On their own, none of those items are particularly threatening to your child’s health and well-being, but the presence of refined carbohydrates in their diets is disproportionate to everything else a growing child requires to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is the accumulation of nutrient-poor foods over the course of a day, a week, a year that is contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity that our nation is facing.
Healthier Choices at the Grocery Store
If we want our children to live a full, optimal life, free of disease then it is time for a change. The easiest place to start this change is in the grocery store. Avoid buying any product containing the following ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, splenda, nutrasweet, sugar, food dyes, preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and nitrates. These are common ingredients in packaged foods and beverages and are detrimental to our health. Also avoid any “diet” foods as they are laden with preservatives and artificial sweeteners that do nothing to help your body.
Start A Child's Day off Strong
It is critical for a child to have a good breakfast every day, preferably within the first hour that they are awake. Cereal is only going to create a surge in their blood sugar that will then crash down soon after. A better option is to prepare a frittata, a simple and healthy omelet dish. Place steamed vegetables of your choice in a pie dish; I like spinach, swiss chard, and onion. Whisk 6-8 eggs and pour over the vegetables. Bake until set; approximately 45 min. This recipe will feed 3-4 people and you can make it ahead of time, slice it, and heat it up for your family in the morning. This type of breakfast will keep your child full and able to think clearly for approximately 3 hours versus cereal which will keep them full and focused for approximately 1 hour.
People Are Made To Move!
Human beings are designed to move. We are not supposed to sit all-day-every-day. The largest muscles in the human body are in the lower extremities (the legs) for a reason: we are meant to walk and run; however, most of us expend a lot more energy through our upper extremities (arms) each day by typing, playing video games, and writing.
During school, many children have limited amounts of physical activity. Some have a maximum of one hour of physical activity across gym class and recess. There are other children who have as little as fifteen minutes or none at all. To make matters worse, when they return home from school, many children find themselves sitting down playing video games or watching television.
When your child comes home from school, incorporate play time into the routine. Try to include outside activities such as sports or riding a bike. You can do a family scavenger/treasure hunt or relay races. Anything other than sitting down playing video games or watching TV will be an excellent improvement for your child’s health.
Education: the Best Way to Fight Obesity
Children should never be put on a weight-loss diet. Instead, they should be taught how to eat properly for optimal health. The child should not feel as if they must eat differently from the rest of the family. I encourage families to stop cooking several meals for dinner to satisfy different family members’ likes and dislikes. If you focus on 2 or more vegetables and a source of protein at each meal and vary the types of those foods each day, then you can satisfy the needs of everyone.
Give your child the opportunity to choose the vegetables for each dinner, this will help increase enjoyment of eating healthy foods. The only way to find out what foods they like is to expose your child to new vegetables on a daily basis. Also, children are sensitive to textures of foods; therefore serve vegetables to them that are raw (crunchy), steamed (softer), sautéed, or roasted. Serve lemon wedges for children to squeeze and high quality sea salt for them to sprinkle on their veggies. A sample dinner meal could be baked chicken, steamed broccoli drizzled with lemon and olive oil and some sautéed spinach with garlic and olive oil. Another night, dinner could be an Asian stir fry with salmon and Chinese vegetables sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Add a simple baby spinach salad topped with sliced mushrooms and slivered almonds for added nutrients and fiber.
Free Your Mind, the Rest Will Follow
Although many experts are concerned with the issue of a child’s weight in relation to obesity, it is important to achieve a healthy and balanced life, the focus must not only be on the child’s weight, but also on the child’s health—emotional, physical, and spiritual.
Family members should always use positive words when talking to their child about their weight. A parent should encourage their child to see themselves as beautiful, healthy human beings as they work toward better health. In our society, it is common for people to emphasize how people look, but it is critical for your child’s spiritual and emotional health to help but these mainstream views into perspective. Teach children to focus on their health and well-being rather than appearance.