July 15, 2008

Helping our Children to Eat Better

By Betty Lipe, 4-H Educational Instructor

assorted fruitsObesity rates have risen sharply in the last twenty years. In Florida as many as one in five children are obese and just a few years ago it was estimated at one in ten. Obesity can lead to many health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

In June of 2004 Congress passed a law reauthorizing federal funding for the Child Nutrition program. This program directs all school districts participating in the federally funded child nutrition programs to establish a local school wellness policy for all schools in their district. The link between nutrition, physical education, and academic achievement is strong. Poor nutrition and hunger interfere with cognitive function. Research has shown the school breakfast programs benefit students with improved ability to concentrate in the classroom and improvements in test scores.
assorted vegetables5 a day for Better Health is a national program and partnership that seeks to increase the number of daily servings. This program provides ideas for easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables to daily eating patterns. Be Wise about Your Portion Size is a statewide education campaign aimed at encouraging Floridians to be aware of portion sizes as well as their daily intake of food. This was started in 2005 in an effort to reduce the incidence of obesity in Florida.
Since evidence shows that nutrition and learning go hand in hand opportunities should be provided for youth to taste new foods. The experiences should be created through hands-on making of healthy snacks, breakfast items, or other meals. Children and teens seem more willing to try new foods if they have had a hand in preparing the item.

Sample Recipes Youth Can Make:
Ants on a Log: Cut celery into 4 inch strips and fill the hollow part with cream cheese or peanut butter and add a few raisins sitting on top. Try adding bits of vegetables to the cream cheese.

Fruit Kabobs: On a long skewer, thread a grape, strawberry, marshmallow, cut kiwi, and strawberry. To keep the banana from turning brown, coat each piece with lemon juice before placing on the skewer. If strawberries are not in season, pineapple or other in season fruits can be used.

Homemade Granola Bars: Start with 3 ½ cups rolled oats (or oatmeal toasted on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes at 350○F, stirred occasionally.) Mix rolled oats, 1 cup nuts (chopped), 1 cup raisins, 2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted, ½ cup brown sugar, packed, ½ cup honey, corn syrup, or molasses, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. When thoroughly mixed, press the mixture in a well greased 10 X 15 jelly roll pan and bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes. Cool and a wire rack and cut into bars when cool.

A Few More Tips:
  • For your summer picnics, radish roses or carrot curls are fun to make and eat. Remember to invite your children or teens to help. This will introduce them to different foods as you prepare the ingredients, and they are getting a second benefit of learning to eat healthier.
  • As school gears up and you are thinking about lunches, let the children and teens shop with you and pick out ingredients for their lunches. With your guidance they can learn how to choose smart and stay healthy.
  • While cooking (under supervision) youth are learning to read a recipe, measure ingredients properly (practices math skills), finish a project, and enjoy the results. All this will hopefully lead to better choices in food.
  • Involve the children and teens in picking fresh produce as it becomes available - tomatoes in May and June or blueberries in May. The following is a link where you can find what fruit and vegetables is available for u-pick in Florida . Many of the fruits and vegetables recommended for your 5-A-Day are available all winter long in Florida. In fact there are many Green Markets springing up in Pinellas County where you can purchase fresh produce all winter. One of these is sponsored by the Pinellas County Extension Service. For further information see the website:
Schools can only do so much, so as parents we need to realize that the home front is the best venue to teach healthy choices. The more we involve children in making healthy choices the better they will do when they are not at home.

Six Easy Bites – 4-H Foods Youth Activity Guide

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