Our children are facing a health crisis.

With fast food, TV, and video games replacing home cooked dinners and playing outside, eating well and being healthy has become a challenge for today’s family.

The number of overweight kids in Canada, including Northern BC, has at least doubled since 1986. If this trend continues, our youth could be the first generation to experience poorer health than their parents, with a greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Good food habits start in the home, and parents are important in that process.

As a Northern Health Community Nutritionist, I work with many parents who struggle to get their kids to eat healthier. At the same time, more and more processed food is working its way into the home. Changing the food environment in your home to mainly nutritious foods can help prevent food battles with your children.

It’s easier to get your children to eat better when the whole family adopts a healthier lifestyle. Taking time for home-cooked family meals helps to ensure your children get more of the nutrients they need for good health, such as calcium, vitamins C and D, and fibre. Eating together also

provides an opportunity to slow down and reconnect as a family.

Of course, ensuring that your family eats well as you struggle with a busy schedule takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it. Did you know that a trip through a fast-food drive-thru could net your child over 1000 calories and close to 50 grams a fat for a typical burger with cheese, fries, and large soda? This is over half of a 9-year old girl’s daily calorie requirements. Those “in a hurry” trips can add up even if they are only once a week.

So, take the time to plan your family’s weekly meals. Try cooking larger amounts and freeze some meals for those extra busy days. Use a slow cooker.

Take advantage of pre-cut veggies and bagged salads. Plan to use leftovers in lunches or another meal.

Your child will eat around 170 lunches at school each year so a nutritious lunch is important. But, you want to be sure your child isn’t trading away your nutritious creations. Ask your child what he or she wants to eat.

Children tend to eat better if they are involved in planning and packing their lunches.

Make foods easy to eat. Peel, slice, and cut food into child-sized portions whenever possible. Melon cubes or baby carrots are a lot more appealing than a whole piece of fruit. Packaged foods may be convenient, but try to limit them, as most are lower in nutrition. Examples of store-bought snacks that pass the grade are: fruit cups, packed in water or juice; dried 100% fruit bars; yogurt cups/tubes; cheese strings; and peanut butter.

Your child’s school environment can also influence his or her lunchtime food choices. Vending machines, canteens, and fundraising meals do not typically involve many healthy foods. For examples of BC schools that have adopted a healthy food policy, visit www.healbc.ca

Helping your child to develop a healthy lifestyle can mean more than just providing the right foods. TV and other advertising hit our kids with tantalizing images of sugary cereals, crispy fries, and refreshing but sugar-filled soft drinks. Talking to your children about the advertising they see is important. But it’s even more effective to limit the amount of time they spend watching TV.

More than two hours of television viewing a day is associated with overweight and obesity in children. This is because they end up eating higher fat/sugar foods while they’re in front of the TV and because they’re less active overall. Suggest some fun alternate activities that your child can enjoy outside. Or better yet, take the time to join your kids for an afternoon of sledding, playing ball, or going for a bike ride.

Your extra effort does make a difference in ensuring your kids get the nutrients they need to grow and the physical activity required to develop to their full potential. You’ll also be teaching them lifelong skills about meal planning, food preparation, and keeping fit. As a parent, you have the power to help your child build the right foundation for a healthy body and a brighter future.

For more information about nutrition and physical activity for kids, including parent handouts, contact your local health unit. The Dietitians of Canada website, www.dietitians.ca/english/frames.html currently features the national Nutrition Month Campaign focused on school-age children.