Family At Home In Eating Meal Together

A number of smaller “bits” of healthy changes over time can add up to make a big difference. At home or at school, changing our own habits and way of thinking is just as easy as practicing small changes.

It is still common to hear parents and teachers talk about rewarding kids with sweets like ice cream or a school pizza party. The concern is not because the kids are having ice cream or pizza, which can be part of a balanced eating plan. It is the consistent use of foods (very often sweets) that is perceived as a reward by the child…a habit that can be carried through life. Each month in 2018, choose several small “bits” of change. Practice helps form healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Ideas to Start the Year

  1. Turn off whichever screen is on (TV, computer, phone) while eating at home. Instead, talk with your family members.
  2. Put snacks on a plate instead of eating from a bag or box.
  3. Use fun physical activity as a reward. Anyone for miniature golf or a scavenger hunt in the park?
  4. Drink water instead of sugary beverages.
  5. Try a fruit or vegetable that you don’t usually eat.
  6. Tune up your “hunger meter.” Eat and enjoy small bites. Stop eating when you are pleasantly (instead of uncomfortably) full.

school girl carrying her lunch

Students play a unique and valuable role in advocating for healthier school environments. They can and should be encouraged to participate in the Wellness Council to:

  • Bring a different perspective to situations
  • Learn by participating
  • Model to peers
  • With guidance and training, help educate peers

Peer-to-peer influence is a growing area of research

There are many examples of peer influences on the behavior of children from preschool age through adolescence; both bad and good habits can be influenced. A recent study suggests that just viewing a DVD on which peers are eating a vegetable could positively influence acceptance of that vegetable. Younger students have a natural tendency to look up to slightly older youth. For that reason, they view them as a role model and someone worth listening to.

With guidance and training, peer-to-peer education and modeling can be very instrumental in improving the health habits of their younger peers. In addition, there are added benefits for the student mentors as they can improve their own confidence, leadership skills, nutrition and physical fitness knowledge, attitudes and habits.

Healthy body healthy mind

The “secrets” of healthy eating include variety, moderation and balance. A consistent, repeated message is one key to learning. A daily, or even weekly, message targeted not just to knowledge, but also attitude and healthy behavior, is the aim. In the classroom, plan 5-10 minute nutrition education or physical activity brain breaks. It doesn’t have to be complex:

Nutrition Ed

  • Discuss how MyPlate shows us how to choose a variety of foods from different food groups.
  • Talk about moderation. What is it and how do we choose it? Point out how MyPlate gives us serving sizes for the foods we eat and also recommends the number of servings we should eat for our age, gender and how active we are.
  • Talk about how eating a healthy breakfast can make school easier. Breakfast provides morning “Go Power.”

Brain Breaks

  • Talk about how moving more balances “energy in” from the foods we eat with “energy out” for a healthy heart and weight. While moving, ask kids to call out their favorite choices for active play.
  • Between lessons, have kids do jumping jacks, jog in place or act out sports like swimming, tennis or basketball.
  • Play five minutes of “musical desks.”

If time is limited to implement a full comprehensive nutrition education curriculum, do something else. There are many “One-a-Day” ideas to help fill a gap. Contact Healthy Kids Challenge for more ideas. The Healthy Kids Challenge Balance My Day™ curriculum is full of discussion points, hands-on activities and worksheets.

Kindergarten children eating lunch

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) resource HEALTH AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT makes it clear that healthy eating and physical activity are linked to academic achievement. This means it is very much worth ensuring that we take the time to make it the most effective.

The Healthy Kids Challenge curriculum foundation has set the stage with learning theories and evidence based content for the greatest success. The content is built on the foundation of six healthy habit messages: daily physical activity and choosing breakfast, fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks, right-size portions, and healthy beverages. The curriculum meets standards recommended by the CDC HECAT (Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool). Hands-on learning activities are designed to build skills for making healthy choices. The following appealing messages are repeated in different ways:

  • Active Play, Balance My Day
  • Breakfast GO Power
  • Drink Think
  • Fruits & Veggies – Every Day the Tasty Way
  • Smart Servings
  • Snack Attack

Along with building skills for making healthy choices, we help educators set kids up for success by creating settings that support healthier choices. For some time, research has supported healthier environments. The USDA Local School Wellness Policy requirements are one way healthier environments are supporting kids.

School Caferteria Line

Preschools and daycare centers can help build a foundation for healthy eating and physical activity choices. In the most recent WOWS Newsletter, we shared the three actions that will help make a difference that lasts for a lifetime:

  1. Plan fun, hands-on learning activities
  2. Model and repeat the healthy message… play, taste and learn with kids
  3. Share the message with parents and caregivers

A 4th category of actions are “nudges.” We’ve used this term in our columns before. It is a word made popular by Cornell University’s Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.

Nudges are like the things retail marketers use to encourage consumers to buy. Good examples are retail store end caps or products placed by the checkout lanes. When it comes to kids’ places, consider these successful “nudges”:

  • A 2016 study reported in Pediatrics found that in school cafeterias with vinyl banners depicting vegetable superhero characters, more young children took vegetables from the salad bar.
  • Studies have also shown an increase in the selection of healthier foods when they are at eye level. In one example, preschoolers took cartons of lower fat milk when they were easier to reach than the higher fat choice.
  • Encouraging students to take fruits and veggies as they go through the line increases selections.
  • Giving fun menu names to fruits and veggies “nudges” healthier choices. So the next time you post a menu, have fun with creative names, like “Crunch a Bunch Salad,” “Rocket Carrots” or “To-My-Toes Tomatoes.” Better yet, help kids come up with silly names!

Make a Healthy Difference, Learn – Model – Share – and Nudge

The perfect entertainment snack

Whenever a change in the status quo is made, one of the first questions that come to mind is “Will making healthier substitutions cause us to lose customers or make money?”

According to a study published in the Journal of Public Health, an Iowa High School showed success is possible!

The school focused on adding just eight healthy options, including carrots, apples, a grilled chicken sandwich and string cheese. They also replaced regular nacho cheese sauce with a no trans fat variety and prepared popcorn with canola oil rather than coconut oil to make it trans fat free and lower in saturated fat. The results showed an income increase of 4 percent and, although student satisfaction was not affected, parental satisfaction increased. In addition, sales of the modified nachos and popcorn increased.

As reported in “Celebrating Healthy,” the Minnesota Department of Health found similar results.

After making changes for healthier foods, the Edina Aquatic Center increased profits by 12 percent between 2011 and 2012, the Richfield pool increased profits by 20 percent and the Dwan Golf Club decreased food costs by 6 percent!

These studies and others support the potential for the successful addition of healthier concession foods. Knowing of the success of these leading concession operations will make it easier for others to make healthier menu changes.

Children having picnic and eating strawberries in garden

Every day, there are a multitude of things that influence our eating choices. Too often, those influences trend toward over-consuming added sugars and unhealthy fats. The July 5th WOWS Newsletter activity guides kids in thinking about the influence of the healthy habits we value and practice, and how friends and the media can make a difference in the choices we make. By itself, just the availability of sugary and higher fat foods in so many settings (fast foods and at concession stands, parties and celebrations…list goes on) is an influence.

Among the influencers are television commercials and other media ads. Think of the really yummy-looking posters of foods you see in fast food restaurants. They are designed to make us want to choose them. It is helpful to recognize the impact these influences can have on you. Those influences become a problem when we bend to temptation and frequently over-consume. If we value and practice healthy habits such as having smaller, less frequent amounts of sugary and higher fat foods as a way to looking and feeling our best, it is easier to recognize the temptation and make choices to resist over-consuming.

As in the example above, recognizing influencers is a step toward healthy balance. It is also helpful to have a basic understanding of the results of the choices we make. An example is recognizing how much sugar is too much. There are two slightly different guidelines they we often see; one is from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the other is defined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Because the AHA recommendation is based on maximum amounts and the 2015 DGA recommendation depends on a percentage of daily calories, it can seem a little confusing. However, so many Americans are consuming much greater amounts than either of the recommendations, so using either guideline can help us curb our intake of sugar.

Do the “why’s (influencers) of eating choices” make a difference in your balance? You decide!

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