Healthy Kids, Healthy Meals

By Beth Cline

“Eat Right. Exercise. Have Fun.” The tag line for the new kid-friendly food pyramid sums up the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) basic goals for Americans and nutrition. Teach us what healthy foods to consume, stress the importance of exercise, and most importantly, make it enjoyable to maintain healthy habits.

The USDA has provided Americans with food guidance for more than 100 years. Their primary goal is to motivate consumers to choose healthier foods and to keep dietary recommendations parallel to the latest scientific information regarding nutrition. Last year, the USDA unveiled MyPyramid, a personalized food guidance system, catering to an individual’s needs. By imputing a few necessary pieces of data (age, sex and activity level) into the USDA’s online calculator, the site (www.mypyramid.gov  ) will offer personalized nutrition plans, sample menus and even tips on dining out.

“The new MyPyramid takes a unique approach to living, allowing children and adults to incorporate their own level of physical activity, which in turn produces a customized guideline to nutrition,” said Pam Watson, RD/LD Sodexho School Services manager, nutrition and wellness education. “In addition to this, MyPyramid now uses easy-to-understand measurements like ‘cups’ instead of ‘ounces’ so people can eyeball portion size and take control of their daily caloric intake.”

The new pyramid stresses six main points for improving nutrition:

  • Personalization- Adjust daily nutrition requirements to each family member’s needs, from the active mom, to the teenage athlete.
  • Gradual improvement- Whether the goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or just feel better, little adjustments to diet and exercise can improve everyone’s quality of life.
  • Physical Activity- Healthy eating habits and physical activity go hand in hand in creating a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to encourage plenty of exercise for the whole family, along with nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Variety- Keep healthy eating fun by offering a wide variety of foods. With thousands of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and grains to choose from, the possibilities are endless. Try introducing one new food a week to the family.
  • Moderation- Have desert! No healthy diet would be complete without some fats and sweets. The key is to limit the consumption of fatty foods and sugary snacks as much as possible and balance each treat with plenty of exercise.
  • Proportionality- Each family member needs a different proportion of foods from each group. Use the calculator on www.mypyramid.gov  to figure out just how much each person needs.

In an effort to help fight childhood obesity, the USDA also created a child-friendly version of the new guide, MyPyramid for Kids. MyPyramid for Kids is designed for children ages 6-11 and provides interactive games as well as colorful, easy to understand explanations of the healthy foods and nutritional guidelines. Online and printable materials available atwww.mypyramid.gov/kids/index  are designed to capture children’s interest and encourage them to learn.

MyPyramid for Kids stresses the same important elements of the adult version, but in language that is easy for children to comprehend. The program also offers exercise tips, to support the value of a healthy lifestyle. Some include:

  • Set a good example. Parents and children can encourage each other to get active.
  • Establish a routine that involves good nutrition and plenty of exercise.
  • Have an activity party. Invite friends over for backyard Olympics or relay races.
  • Move more! Try to limit TV and computer time, but take advantage of commercial breaks to get up and do some jumping jacks or just walk around.

Give activity gifts that encourage fitness such as sports equipment or active games.

The new USDA pyramid stresses a healthy diet emphasizing fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. It includes lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. It is also low in fats (both saturated and trans fats), low in cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. According to the USDA, the average American does not eat enough dark greens, orange vegetables and legumes, fruits, whole grains and low-fat milk products. Here are some ideas to help the whole family eat healthier:

  • Use whole grains as half the daily allowance of grains.
  • Vary vegetables by offering a selection of choices throughout the day.
  • Encourage the consumption of fruit for that something sweet after dinner or a late afternoon snack.
  • Stress the importance of calcium-rich foods by incorporating low-fat and non-fat milk, cheese and other dairy products.
  • Use lean proteins and meats for meals.
  • Find a happy balance between food and physical activity.

Families can use the new food pyramid to create stepping-stones for children to create a healthy lifestyle. By taking steps one at a time, starting with good nutrition and plenty of exercise, children can build a healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Saturday, October 28, 2006. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Visitwww.marinemarathon.com  for registration information. Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

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