Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Cooking Up a Recipe for Healthy Living
How to Make Healthy Eating and Exercise a Part of Your Everyday Routine

by Rebecca Todd

September 01, 2010

Get Up! Get Active! Get Fit!

Hey, you! Yes, you with the bag of chips and cell phone to your ear. Put those down and listen to me for a moment.—it might save your life. Not only that, it might save the life of your child.

Childhood obesity is running rampant through the U.S. Over the past thirty years, the problem has grown by leaps and bounds with approximately one-third of America’s children now falling into the overweight or obese categories. In addition, recently completed a study that ranked Indiana at number 15 of the top twenty laziest states, stating that Hoosier residents spend slightly more time engaged in sedentary activities than the average American. The consequences of this sedentary lifestyle can include high cholesterol, edema, diabetes, skin darkening (called acanthosis, it is due to an insulin resistance and inability to metabolize sugars), heart problems, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression.

The growing problem can be attributed to many different behavioral and environmental causes combining to create an epidemic. Growing dependence on and accessibility to technology (one recent survey found that four out of five American teens—nearly 17 million—carry a wireless device, a 40% increase since 2004), and busy lifestyles requiring fast and easy meals and less time for family activities are just part of the problem. “It is a result of many factors,” says Lori Walton, Pediatric Weight Management Coordinator for the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital L.I.F.E for Kids program at St. Vincent. “Eating out more often, increased portion sizes, increased availability and marketing of processed “empty calorie” foods, decreased activity due to less gym and recess now offered at schools, increased technology resulting in less manual labor and excess T.V., computer and video game time, both parents working resulting in kids home alone and less time to prepare healthy meals, etc. In order to truly impact the childhood obesity epidemic, we have to work together as a society including healthcare professionals, schools, government, religious organizations, neighborhoods and families.”

Eating healthy is one of the top two methods of weight control (besides exercise). Take a little time to plan out meals with your children and ask for their input. Visit Web sites that specialize in healthy meal ideas like,,, etc. Pick up books at your local library that recommend healthy, kid-friendly recipes such as Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld, The Sneaky Chef to the Rescue: 101 All-New Recipes and "Sneaky" Tricks for Creating Healthy Meals Kids Will Love by Missy Chase Lapine, etc.

One of the best ways to enhance your child’s palette for healthy and delicious foods is to scrap the staples of chicken nuggets, hot dogs and mac and cheese and help them head for greener pastures by helping them start a garden of their own and plan meals together. Why not create a “pizza garden” with tomatoes, basil, peppers, oregano, etc. or perhaps a “purple garden” with eggplant, purple peppers, edible purple flowers, etc. Grab a Jr. Executive Chef’s outfit from Aeromax (as seen on our cover) ( and let them help you whisk, mix, shake, chop and bake along with you. Making healthy food fun is the name of the game.

In an effort to combat the problem on the school level, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent has developed the Project 18 Statewide School Health and Wellness Challenge. Designed in partnership with Marsh Supermarkets and Ball State University, the program is designed to “help kids and their families set goals, eat smarter and get active” by involving parents and educators. The project, which is named after Manning’s football jersey number, provides Indiana elementary schools with an 18-week health and wellness curriculum designed to address the major risk behaviors in third-grade to fifth-grade students. Approximately 250 registered schools within 60 Indiana counties participated in the project last year and applications are now being taken to participate in this year’s challenge. For more information, visit the project website at or call 317-338-KIDS (5437).

It’s been said that it takes a community to raise a child, and while there may be problems with community schools such as highly processed lunches and fewer physical education offerings, the fact of the matter is, good habits begin at home and parents need to step up and set a healthy example for their children. “It’s easy to blame the schools,” says Dr. Sandeep Gupta, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Clinical Medicine at Riley Hospital for Children and Director of the Riley POWER (Pediatric OverWeight Education and Research) Program. “But in reality, children are only in school for one-third of the time. Schools are awakening to the issues and beginning to try harder. But a lot more can be done at home.”

Yet how do you motivate your child to get up and get moving? According to Dr. Gupta, it is not about putting children on a strict diet and enforcing rules. It’s about being an advocate for a healthy lifestyle and setting an example. “Parents have to buy in for young kids, and adolescents have to buy in for themselves,” he says. “Emphasize a positive reinforcement system such as non-food based rewards; not punitive, which will just lead to rebellion. It’s kind of like dangling a carrot in front of them, but in this case, REALLY dangling a carrot!”

Begin by creating an atmosphere that is conducive to exercise. Cut back on access to screen time and provide more access to fun opportunities to exercise. A few simple outdoor games and activities can be the only motivation a child needs to get active. Toss a Frisbee or a ball, set up a sprinkler to run through or provide a hula hoop, jump rope or bean bag toss. Inside, clear a space for tumbling-type fun. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just a “free action space” where it is okay to jump, roll a ball or turn on the radio and dance.

However, don’t just set up the space and walk away. Get involved and instigate activities with your child. In short, if you make exercise a priority in your own life, your children will mimic your behavior. Go on family walks before dinner or dance to a favorite song. Your activity can be infectious for your child. Try this: blow up a balloon and tap it in the direction of anyone in your family. I guarantee they will hit it back. It’s a proven fact that even the most mature, sedate adult cannot resist and high-spirited game of balloon tap!

As your child’s activity grows, begin to chart progress and set goals. Make them simple and reward achievements with non-food related awards such as a half hour of screen time or even better, an activity-related outing to a favorite park, zoo or swimming pool.

Local options abound for families and children wanting to get involved in programs outside the home. Personal Trainer Tod Esquivel hosts a plethora of fitness camps and courses for all ages. His Indy Fit Kids (, available through Cardinal Fitness Centers downtown, at Eagle Creek and in Castleton, is a place for your kids ages 5-15 to “get healthy by making better self-esteem, fitness, eating and mental choices.” Programs are individually designed and focus on exercise and making nutritional food choices. Family fitness and personal, in-home programs are also available.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recently launched “Get Fit Indy!” a citywide wellness initiative aimed at encouraging healthy lifestyles for kids and families. “I challenge all children living in Indianapolis to be active 60 minutes a day and eat healthy foods. Maintaining an active lifestyle and eating from the five food groups are great ways to be healthy,” said Mayor Ballard. The initiative’s Web site,, highlights community partners’ programs, activities and events designed to help area families reach the goal.

Additionally, the POWER program at Riley Children’s Hospital is offering an upcoming “POWER for a Healthier Tomorrow” health fair to be held September 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featuring activities for kids, food demonstrations and health screenings for both adults and children. (For more information contact Riley Hospital for Children at 1-800-248-1199).

FitCity, a division of Learning Well, Inc., is “an effort in central Indiana to motivate and empower Hoosiers to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors.” Providing information and community resources for good nutrition and physical activity, FitCity provides a wealth of information for Indianapolis residents looking to get fit and achieve a healthy weight. FitCity is funded by the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis with the goal of helping Hoosiers take simple steps to better health in order to reduce childhood obesity. Visit for more information.

It’s not always easy to talk yourself into putting down the chips and the cell phone and get motivated, but once you’ve done it, the benefits are undeniable for both you and your family. You’ll be so glad you did.

Rebecca Todd is a freelance writer and author of the book What's the Point? -- Looking for Logic in Modern America.