Boost Your Kids’/Grandkids’ Health and Brain Power!

The childhood obesity epidemic continues to grow and shows no signs of tapering off, or at least reaching a plateau.  Since 1980, obesity in children has tripled, and today over 17 percent of our children are severely overweight.  According to an education workshop hosted by the Tyler Public Library and St. Paul Children’s Foundation, children today might have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of the dangerous obesity problems. One speaker claimed that one-third of children born after 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes at some point in their life.

On another note, our children’s grades are also continuing to slip.  America dropped three ranks down to 10th place in this year’s Global Innovation Index, and in our K-12 education assessments we are ranked 31.  Luckily, as parents you can take matters into your own hands and do several things to help your kids and grandkids succeed in both nutrition and academics.

Feed the Brain!
Smarts and healthy eating go hand-in-hand.  Without some vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are essential to physical and mental growth, anyone can experience diminished learning capabilities.  In growing children who need every bit of nutrients they can get, the importance of a proper diet is compounded. With September being “Fruits and Veggies – More Matters” month, it’s a great time to take a look at some of the foods that are essential to a growing body’s tip-top health.

Of course, the “standard” veggies and fruits apply.  Broccoli, carrots, apples, berries and even sweet potatoes all contain important nutrients for kids’ development and can often be incorporated into kids’ lunches rather easily.  Certain foods, like fish and avocados, might be harder to get from your kids’ plate into their mouth, but the effort will be well rewarded.  You see, avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats that are great for brain development. They also contain vitamins and carotenoid lutein, which improve eye health.

Oily fish like trout and salmon contain the almighty omega-3 fatty acids, which countless studies continue to find are an essential ingredient to a healthy brain.  When you lack omega-3, your body will begin to use omega-6 from vegetable fats; but it’s crucial to realize that ADHD and depression have both been linked to an imbalance between the two types of fatty acids.

Now . . . Here’s one food item you may not think of as a healthy food: dark chocolate.  This is a great lunch item or school snack because eating dark chocolate can improve the brain’s performance for several hours.  Additionally, the flavonoids contained in dark chocolate will increase blood flow to the brain, showing even more of a boost in performance and alertness.

Have Fun with Food
Eating healthy and maintaining a normal weight doesn’t have to mean boring lunches and tasteless foods.  By overcoming this stereotype at an early age, you improve your child’s chances of continuing the healthy tradition into adulthood.  Being adventurous and having fun with packing lunches could make all the difference when it comes to weaning kids off junk food.

For instance, get your child involved at the grocery store or farmer’s market.  Let them choose veggies and fruits that they like, and educate them as you maneuver the produce aisle as to where and how those foods are grown.  Ask the producers or farmers at your local market to explain how their fruits and veggies grew from a simple seed to what they see now.

One other way you could make healthy food fun is by having your child pick a different color of the rainbow each day, and pack fruits or crunchy vegetables that match that color.  Carrots, celery, plums, apples, bananas . . . each can be a colorful representation of health that will entice your little one to dig in.

While the childhood obesity epidemic continues to climb, it’s not too late to turn it in the other direction.  As parents you are your children’s strongest influences; and by instilling fun, healthy eating habits, the positive experiences will last a lifetime.  A lifetime that, hopefully, is much longer than ours.

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