Parents provide the environment in which eating behaviours are set. It makes me sad when I’m at the supermarket and see some parents shopping with their children, loading up the trolley with soft drinks, packets of chips and processed foods.
Childhood obesity is an issue that hits home
The number of overweight children is increasing each year. According to the latest NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS), 1 in 4 - 27% of Australian children aged between 5 - 17 are overweight or obese. Overweight children run a greater risk of becoming overweight adults and are more likely to develop health-related problems when they get older, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. The main factors influencing overweight and obesity are poor diets and inadequate physical activity.
Having been and overweight child myself, childhood obesity is one area I feel strongly about. When I was young, I ate large portions of food and wasn't very active. I would sit in front of the TV for hours and just snack all day. I didn’t feel healthy or well.
When I was young, I ate large portions of food and never exercised. I would sit in front of the TV for hours and just snack all day. I didn’t feel healthy or well.
I was always the last one picked for school sports because the other kids thought I was too slow and too clumsy. So I never really participated in sports and, when I did, I usually came last in races.
At the age of nine, I realised I was overweight. A group of high school students did a survey by recording the weight and height of our class. I was shocked to discover that I was the heaviest in the class – by about 10 kg. I suppose it isn't that much in the scheme of things, but this day changed my life and was the turning point to getting me on the right track and inspiration to what I do today.
The very next day I asked mum to buy more fruit and vegetables and I halved my portion sizes at mealtimes. I also remember refusing deep-fried foods, which forced mum into cooking healthier meals. Instead of catching the school bus, I began to walk to school and I also enrolled myself in the school netball and basketball teams. I also started to become active.
I was fortunate to have great role models like my Great Aunt and Uncle who taught me how to cook fresh healthy food and live a healthy lifestyle. I loved coming home from school and helping mum prepare my dinner. If I helped make it, then I would eat it.
My approach to childhood obesity starts at home. If we can get kids to fall in love with healthy food, then they are more likely to stick with these healthy eating patterns later in life. Teach your kids how to cook and prepare meals, and be the best role model you can.
Now I’m not a mum, but I believe if we can get kids to fall in love with healthy cooking, then they may be more likely to stick with these healthy eating patterns later in life. My philosophy is to KEEP IT SIMPLE – KEEP IT FRESH – MAKE IT YOURSELF.
Some simple ways you can get kids to eat more veggies include:
+ Making lasagna but swapping out the refined pasta sheets with delicious slices of sweet potato and zucchini. You can also swap half the mince in your bolognese sauce with extra veggies such as carrot, celery and leek - the perfect prebiotics for a healthy digestive system. Make your own pasta for spaghetti bolognese with any leftover sauce and make carrot or zucchini noodles - they taste delicious!
+ Sneak in some baby spinach, avocado or frozen zucchini into kids’ banana or berry smoothies for breakfast or as a healthy snack. Frozen zucchini or bananas make your smoothies creamier. Add a spoonful of tahini, raw honey or nut butter for a delicious taste.
+ Build the perfect sandwich for school lunches and make them delicious and healthy. Use healthy spreads such as avocado, tahini and hummus.
+ Make your own mashed potatoes and smash them with extra virgin olive oil or good grass-fed butter. You can also make colcannon and fold through steamed shredded kale or cavolo nero, spring onion and a spoon of Greek style yoghurt and fresh chopped parsley.
+ Make a healthy morning smoothie using a frozen banana, a date, Healthy Chef Green Smoothie, rice milk and a spoonful of Healthy Chef Protein. Or if you’re making a berry-based smoothie, the addition of Healthy Chef Superfood will ensure they also get their daily dose of organic vegetables.
+ Children often come home from school in the afternoon hungry - I remember mum used to have dinner ready for us as by 4.30 - 5.00 pm straight after school. Having an early dinner made us eat our vegetables because we were so hungry and it stopped the inter-meal snacking. In the evenings I would eat some fresh fruit like a banana and some yoghurt as my dessert.
+ Experiment with new recipes that you can adapt to your child's preferences. I have covered so many fast, fresh and simple recipes in my bestselling book, Purely Delicious, which includes breakfasts, lunches, desserts, soups and dinners.
Think about what you give to your kids and its effect on their nutrition. Check out my recent post on the importance of protein for kids which is another component of a healthy diet. Protein is vital for kids' brain development, organ function, muscle repair and a healthy immune system, that is crucial for growth and development during childhood.
Try a protein rich smoothie made with 2 cups of filtered water, 1 handful baby spinach or kale leaves, 2 frozen bananas, 3 fresh pitted dates, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, handful of cashew nuts, 1 tablespoon Healthy Chef Protein and some ice...BLEND then serve.
The other half of the health equation is regular movement. Encourage and support them in their favourite activities. Joining various sporting clubs will not only keep them fit and active but will also help their social skills, as they meet new friends with similar interests. My dad would regularly take me prawning near the estuary where I lived - I would help him drag the net and would walk in the water for hours... it was so much fun and I remember getting really fit from it.
Be a good role model for your children and be active yourself. Being involved in sports and being active saved my life. It gave me confidence, it made me strong and just made me feel good and on top of the world.