obese children

Eating PLANTS!

I have this prejudice that says that British kids aren’t as obese, or as ignorant about food and where it comes from as American kids.  I got a shock last evening.  I was watching a UK TV cooking programme with The Hairy Bikers.  They were cooking outside in a town centre with a live audience.  As they prepared some vegetables and sampled as they went I heard a small boy say “yeuch!  They are eating plants!”  And that, in a very concise nutshell is a probably the biggest problem for our future.

Another British chef, Jamie Oliver, having crusaded about the poor state of food in British schools took his crusade to America and wound up with a TED talk prize.  This 2-minute trailer for his American TV series shows part of the problem:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8CF15HJJ-0

Did you notice the kids unable to identify a tomato?  In the program (you can explore the whole thing, including Jamie’s prize-winning TED talk, on my blog post “Jamie’s American Food Revolution”) the kids in school couldn’t identify potatoes, tomatoes, onions, etc.

We don’t have to go to extremes.  Maybe 20 years ago we went on vacation and took a couple of my kids’ school friends.  It was a self-catering holiday in France and we made a thing of going to local French markets, buying fresh produce and cooking it ourselves.  My son’s friend was scandalised.  For him, food wasn’t food if it didn’t come in a box or a packet.  He had never seen an onion other than battered onion rings. And this was a middle-class lad with a father who worked for IBM, from a country town in southern England.

If children don’t understand where their food comes from, what food is, how to grow, harvest, prepare and cook food then they are at the mercy of Big-Ag, Big-Food, Big-Pharma.  They will have no option but to get fat, get sick, and be part of the first generation for centuries that died younger than their parents.

Childhood obesity is probably even more worrying than adult obesity in many western societies, and doubly worrying as a parent.  When you’re the one who is obese at least you only have yourself to worry about. So let’s think about what we can do.

Real Organic Food from your local organic farm

Before I begin, let me add to my normal caveat.  I am not medically qualified, I am not a nutritionist, and I’m not a pediatrician.  I wasn’t even a child, but that’s another story!

We all know that the latest diet fad probably won’t help us adults, not least because we’re liable to get a bit OCD about it. That’s the last thing we need to burden our kids with. So what can we do?

A lot of folk think that whatever diet that they are on can just be scaled down for a child, but I think that we need to think a little, first.  There is one thing that children do, all their lives (as children)  that adults don’t do.  And that is … they grow!  They need healthy nutrition even more than us adults, and so I believe the “eat less, exercise more” mantra is even more dangerous for children than it is for adults.  Kids need their vitamins and minerals.

We know (don’t we?) that a junk-food diet isn’t any good for anyone, so I believe that we must begin by educating our children on what is (and what isn’t) “real food”, and switching them gently over to a regime that is significantly lower on carbs (particularly high-glycemic index carbs), lower on wheat and sugar, and higher on good meat (organic, grass-fed) and good vegetables and fruit. For children, paying attention to the nutritional content of the food (micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals) is even more important than it is to adults, so if you can get them switched on to growing their own, and to taking good care of the soil that they use to grow their own, then you’re off to a good start.

One of the first things that you can do, I believe, is to start to introduce your kids to where (healthy) food comes from.  If you Google the name of your town with “organic farm” you will, no doubt, find some.  I was inspired to write this blog after a question was posed by a FB friend of mine who lives in the Pacific North West, so I Googled and came up with Bella Organic.  Check out their website: http://bellaorganic.com/ … what a great place to go for a regular family outing.  Our own local farm, Beechcroft, isn’t nearly so organised, but is a lovely place to visit.  Having visited an “old fashioned” farm, see if you can find a CAFO in your area, and just drive past.  You will probably have your child’s interest!

For children, being like the other kids is of extreme importance.  It is something that is, I believe, hard-wired into our genes.  In paleo times being a member of the tribe was a matter of life and death.  You couldn’t survive on your own.  In 21st century western society that has become somewhat perverted: if you aren’t wearing the latest designer label you won’t actually die–but it feels that way to kids, so we must avoid making them feel different.

Katie Stagliano

Katie’s 40lb cabbage

I think that joining, or making the right social group is really important, and I believe that learning about and becoming highly involved with growing and eating real food is important, so here are a couple of great role models.

First, is  Katie Stagliano, founder of Katie’s Krops.

Katie was given a cabbage seedling in a pot in a class at school.  She brought it home, tended it every day, and it grew into a 40lb cabbage!  Katie took the cabbage to a local food kitchen where they were feeding disadvantaged and homeless people and it inspired her to encourage other kids to do the same.  Now, all over America children, encouraged by Katie’s Krops, are planting gardens in schools, community centers and their own back yards, and are using the produce both for their own nutrition, but, more importantly, to help others.

Why is that more important?

Because children are naturally charitable.  They care about things more than the average adult, and if they are growing food to help disadvantaged people they will probably care more about the quality of food they are growing than if they are just growing it for themselves.  And as parents, we want them to care about quality food!

There are lots of tips on Katie’s website; they even have a grant program, if you need some money to help get a garden going.  And they have a Facebook page where you can follow what’s happening in the Katie’s Krops world.

Coral of Coralganics

The next person I would like to introduce is Coral, of Coralganics.  As it says on the “About” section of her Facebook page:

Coral is an eight year old unschooler and very passionate about nutrition! She hopes to help other kids learn how to eat and live more healthfully by eating real, whole foods, avoiding GMOs, and reading labels! She is currently making YouTube videos to help educate other children about exactly what is in the processed and fast foods that are being fed to many children today.

Coral has a Facebook page, and a You Tube channel.  Here is her first ever video, looking at whether WhoNu? cookies are as good as they’re cracked up to be (they aren’t!):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jymovJSRfc8

So: there are a couple of good role models who I hope may get your kid to start taking an interest in food, real food.

Lastly, there is Bettina Elias Siegel’s website, The Lunch Tray.com.  This is a website by an adult, for adults, but her passion is to improve kids’ food, both in school and outside.  She isn’t going for paleo, or even particularly low carb, but she is passionate about getting children to eat real food, not processed.

This video is by Bettina.  If it is “too young” for your child, then get them to watch it with you, and produce a critique, or say how they feel it relates to them.  Everything we are doing here is to encourage our kids to be passionate about food and the potential it has to either make us sick, or make us healthy.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEN4UTbovKM

Kids Growing Food

Before I leave this subject, let me just say it’s worth Googling “Kids Grow Food” and see what you get.  There a lot of resources out there: maybe you can set up a children’s garden in your local church or community center, or your kid’s school.  It’s important that they have a group of friends with the same passion.  Here’s a last video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH2vJ5WmuRk

OK, so that’s vegetables.  But I am somewhat of a low-carb, paleo, ketogenic diet afficionado, so what about meat and protein?

Happy chickens in an Eglu

Well, Susan and I began keeping chickens after we baby-sat our grandson’s chickens (he had an Eglu and two chooks for a birthday present) for a couple of months while he was on a long vacation.  By the time he came back we were sad to be without chickens, so now we have two and we are getting two more tomorrow.  We don’t have much land, our entire back garden (yard) is about 100′ by 30′, and our hen run is 15′ x 12′.  We get eggs, pets, and top soil generated for us.  We have never had children visiting who weren’t fascinated!  And those eggs are really healthy!

So, we have looked at ways of getting children to understand where their food comes from, ways of getting them to grow healthy food, and ways of helping them understand what is healthy and what is not.  There is, of course, one last step.

They need to know how to cook!

Cooking with Kids

I don’t have a vast experience here (my son is a great cook, but I think that’s maybe more despite me than because of me!), but again, I did some Googling.  I’ll leave you to do the same (and refer you to the Jamie Oliver videos, where he spends quite a lot of time introducing both parents and kids to cooking).  For a lot of help and advice, check out this “Cooking with Kids” page on Netmums.com.

My last contribution here is to get you to watch this You Tube video of the fabulous Sarah Fragoso of Everyday Paleo, showing how to make paleo mayonnaise, with help from her boys.  These lads will grow up healthy, I am convinced!

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIbnNzy1XCo

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For Younger People

Got some real young ones?  This might grab their attention!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Os-CACRwM8

Here’s the “Breakfast Edition”:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5fO3SME9KM

On Weighing

This last section is, I know, controversial (it has raised some controversy here at home!)  It’s just an idea … see how it fits with you and your kids.

I have heard people say that you shouldn’t weigh yourself as an adult, and you should avoid the scales even more for a child.

I don’t agree–but I also believe we shouldn’t be obsessing about weight. What we need to do is to “know thy enemy”.

To decide just to ignore weight is to miss an important point … a point that is even more important for children. We live in society and society has norms. One of the norms in our society is that people weigh themselves and weigh their self-esteem at the same time.

It is bad, it is wrong, but it happens. Just to ignore it turns it into the unmentionable “elephant in the room”.

What I think we need to do is to understand the subject in some depth.

So here’s my suggestion.  Set up a science project with your child, to understand body weight.

Here’s the first step. Get your child to weigh themselves every hour, on the hour, for a whole day, and to record the weight on a piece of graph paper (or, for the more tech-savvy, on a spreadsheet with a graph).

Experiment. Weigh before and after having a meal. Weigh before and after going to the bathroom. I am still bemused by the fact that I can weigh less after a heavy meal, and more after a satisfactory bathroom visit! Look at how much the weight fluctuates over the course of a day. I am a large man: my weight can vary by plus or minus 5lbs (roughly 2kgs) over a day. Get your child to find out how much their weight can change over, say, two days (do it over a weekend). You should be able to find out when the “low weight point” of the day is.  You will discover that you can lose or gain a couple of pounds just by weighing at a different time.  It begins to put the whole thing in a different light.

Then just try getting on and off the scales say 10 times in a row, and recording all those weights. That will give you an idea how accurate the scales are.  And, in particular, if your child is a girl, and past puberty, try weighing every day for a month and see how her weight fluctuates. In every case record all the numbers. The two of you will learn a lot about science, a lot about weighing, and a lot about yourselves (you should be doing this alongside your child: maybe get the child to include the whole family in the project).

It will be an eye-opener and will show you that a simple number: “how much I weigh” doesn’t tell you much if taken out of context.

You also have to understand that weighing children has an additional problem that we adults don’t have: they are growing, and we expect them to get heavier as they get taller. Maybe if you weighed every day for a year, and plotted all those measurements on a chart, together with their height, and some other key measurements, you might see some interesting trends.

While you are doing this, you are not aiming for your child to “lose weight”. You are simply running a science project together to collect some data to see what you can learn.  Given that we expect them to weigh more as they grow taller, it might be interesting to divide weight by height, and plot that over time, too.  I suspect that, if the child is beginning to eat more healthily as a result of a growing interest in real food, those numbers might reflect a movement towards leanness.

In that project you might also try weighing before and after a walk, or a run, or a bike-ride, or a swim. What does any of that tell you?

What we are doing here is just developing the child’s sense of interest in their own body, hopefully in a value-free way, hopefully in a way that doesn’t get obsessive.  It is very easy for any of us to begin to obsess about food; but that’s a whole different subject!  (Try looking up “orthorexia” if you really want to scare yourself silly!)

If your child is a bit chubby now (or even obese) remember that they are going to grow taller.  If you get them off of the empty calories of junk food and on to highly nutritious real food, and doing some playing outside in the fresh air, I think it quite likely that they will naturally burn their fat reserves as they grow up, lessening the chance that they continue to grow out!

Jamie Oliver began his odyssey to change America’s eating habits in Huntington, WV and it was reported in a British Channel 4 documentary, Jamie’s Food Revolution.  Here’s the American trailer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8CF15HJJ-0

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="1401310478" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/614JYr0BoQL._SL160_.jpg" width="121"]You can still (as I write in March 2013) watch the entire series of programmes on Four On Demand: Jamie’s American Food Revolution, as well articles, ideas, and things to do.

At the time, the British Daily Mail ran an article about Huntington, WV, USA, the Obese capital of America.

So many people think that the individual people of Huntington are being criticized.  I don’t agree.

I frequently visit America (I have family there and we live part of the year in Florda).  I am made most welcome, and people like to take me out to dinner.  I always used to return home ill.  At first I fixed the problem by taking ALL my nutrition with me, and studiously avoiding American food, and then I was fine.  Now I eat paleo/primal/very low carb and I’m fine.

And my American family and friends didn’t understand what I was going on about … but that’s because they have hadn’t experienced anything else.

It’s a puzzle.  They think that Daily Mail article is poking fun (well, its the Mail, it probably is, but Jamie wasn’t).

They don’t recognise the love and care.

Sigh.

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That’s what I said back in Oct 2010.  Things are changing.  There is a huge recognition of the harm that sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and grains are causing.  It will take a while, but we will get there, eventually.

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Subsequently Jamie won a TEd talk prize: here’s his brilliant presentation.  I think it is total dynamite. If you have any interest in you and your children living long, healthy and happy lives, then watch this!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIwrV5e6fMY

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