Keeping Kids Fit, Healthy and Active
Pediatric Fitness at UW Health offers a program to help children develop healthy habits of exercise and good nutrition.
Healthy is becoming a "loaded" word. It means different things to different people and often carries too much judgment. Instead we like the phrase competent eating. Competent eating is about the food you eat, when and where you eat it, and how much.
Competent eaters will choose a mix of foods that taste good to them and also provide the nutrients their body needs. They eat at fairly regular times and don't skip meals because getting too hungry often drives over-eating and cravings. Competent eaters are pretty open about eating and eat a lot of different foods.
Competent eaters are more likely to eat with others because the social aspects of eating have always been important. Current American culture keeps kids too busy to get to the table, and when they do, the TV often interferes with conversation.
Food and Culture
Attention to culture is another key to competent eating. Throughout history, every culture developed combinations of foods that kept them healthy.
As an example, cultures that pair rice and beans figured out that eating these foods together is a good thing. What we discovered later is this simple food combination gives the body a complete set of proteins.
With a few "updates," everyone's food culture can be healthy. Tradition may have included lard in cooking, but we would now recommend substituting plant-based oils, for example.
True Healthy Eating
So, in a nut-shell this is what "healthy" eating looks like:
- Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner meals that are balanced (protein/dairy, grain, fruit/vegetable) at fairly predictable times
- Having a healthy snack between meals if you are hungry but your next meal is more than one-half hour away, but not so much that you don't feel hungry at meal-time
- Eating processed snack foods, desserts and sweets in one-serving portions with a meal. For example, a handful of chips with a meal is OK, sitting on the couch with the bag will not work out well
- Usually eating at a table, with others rather than walking around with food or eating while watching TV or in the car
- Paying more attention to the things above, but with some attention to what foods are eaten. A good/bad food list only goes so far. If you miss a meal, for example, you are more likely to have an irresistible craving for junk food.
Examples of Healthy Meals
- Peanut butter/soynut butter on whole grain toast, banana
- Smoothie made with frozen bananas or other fruit, milk/yogurt/protein powder, whole oats or flax seeds
- Egg, whole grain toast with spread, six-ounce orange juice
- Sandwich (peanut butter/soynut butter, tuna, meat, cheese), raw vegetables/fruit, milk
- Salad with leftover chicken/salmon/beans/tuna and dressing, two cookies, milk
- Hummus with pita, fruit/vegetable, pudding cup
- Soft-shell tacos with seasoned beef/chicken/fish/refried beans, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole; melon, milk
- Tuna melt, open faced with vegetable soup, water
- Grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, milk
- Pizza, fruit or vegetable salad, water
- Carrot sticks and broccoli dipped in hummus
- 100-calorie snacks
- Fruit and yogurt parfait
- Ants on a Log: Spread peanut butter on celery sticks and top with raisins
Kids and Gardens
UW Health Pediatric Fitness Nutritionist Marcine Braun, MS, RD, shares why getting kids involved in gardening, and going to places like the Farmer's Market or the grocery store, really can make a difference.
Her most important piece of advice? Have patience.