When Children and Teens Tip the Scales
Children in the United States are losing the battle of the bulge.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in youth during the past 30 years. This increase puts young people at risk of experiencing the damaging health effects of obesity at an early age.
Ann Davis is a psychologist and director of Healthy Hawks at the University of Kansas Medical Center, a unique treatment program that includes a blend of clinical curriculum and group activities to address weight concerns and treat obesity in children, youth and families.
Courtney Kruse teaches children about healthy
foods at the Overland Park Hy-Vee.
In 2004, Davis worked with a pediatric endocrinologist to develop, pitch and implement Healthy Hawks, which is one of the few no-cost pediatric obesity treatment programs in the Kansas City area.
“One in three kids is overweight or obese,” says Davis, who leads a team of wellness experts that includes a child psychologist and dietician. “We need as many of these programs as there are fast food restaurants.”
Healthy Hawks is unique in its approach to treating entire families instead of individual patients, says Davis. Children ages 2 to 18 are eligible to participate as long as an adult is present for the entire program. Parents participate in focused group conversations on wellness, nutrition and physical activity, while children experience the same topics through play.
Each participant sets goals for themselves and their families during the 12-week program, which meets for two hours a week.
“There might be 60 people at the gym on a Monday night for Healthy Hawks,” says Davis. “Everyone has room for change in their health behaviors, and we hope to encourage small changes that last a lifetime. That might include a mom shopping for and cooking healthy meals; a dad out exercising and playing games with the kids; and kids eating fruits and veggies for snacks.”
At the Hy-Vee in Overland Park, registered dietician Courtney Kruse also makes it her mission to teach children and families about cooking and how to incorporate a variety of healthy foods into their daily lives. Kruse leads several programs to address the nutritional needs of Hy-Vee customers and the community.
“It’s all about providing hands-on opportunities for kids and food,” says Kruse, who leads groups of school children and Scouts through cooking demos and store tours at least twice a week.
Kruse says that her love affair with good food began at a young age. She accompanied her mother to shop for groceries each week, and her mother would encourage her to select one food, usually a fruit or vegetable, to add to their cart.
After that, Kruse would consult with a neighbor who owned a supermarket to learn how to cook the item. This gave Kruse a sense of ownership of the food, and helped her learn to try different things. Even in college, she continued the tradition of shopping for and finding one new food item to try each week.
“People often say ‘I don’t have enough time,’” says Kruse, who suggests setting aside one day a week to prepare meals for the week ahead. “You have to take that same amount of time to make healthier meals.”
Not above a little trickery when it comes to getting the choosiest children to eat, Kruse recommends buying something familiar that kids love and presenting it in a new way.
At The Culinary Center of Kansas City, Tekia Thompson boasts the mouth-watering job title of Dean of Deliciousness. Along with a team of foodies and food experts, Thompson is dedicated to encouraging excitement in the kitchen for kids and families, a place where she says real wellness begins.
“Despite the news about junk food and poor nutrition, we find it amazing how many kids are truly interested in their health and want to know what they are eating and how to cook well,” she says.
This year, the center plans to offer several specialized and kid-friendly classes for budding chefs who want to learn how to cook healthy and delicious meals.
“In 2014 we will continue to push the recipe envelope in developing cooking classes that excite the palette and empower the body,” says Thompson. “Classes coming in the next year will include Lil’ Kids: Snacks Made from Scratch (forget the boxed stuff), Junior Chefs Academy Pro Series: Fundamentals of Cooking, and the ever-popular Market Fresh Cooking, where we head to the farmers’ market for a hands-on learning experience in selecting produce and getting to know their food before heading back to the Culinary Center for a fabulous cooking class.”
One of her favorite memories is opening her lunchbox at school to see what her mother packed each day. Her mom often packed apple slices with a little container of cinnamon and sugar for dipping or a bag of colored gelatin to entice colorful apple eating.
Kruse loves to help children make their own creative fruit skewers or yogurt parfaits. She also likes to have healthy snacks, such as washed grapes, in an open and reachable container in the fridge on hand for hungry little ones. Kruse doesn’t like an all-or-nothing approach to snacking either. She says to save the sugary cereal as a “sometimes” treat and to create an accessible kid pantry with healthy and non-healthy items as a teaching tool.
Kruse says that children should be allowed to have a say in menu planning and shopping lists. During her demos and tours, she attempts to give children the power to take home what they learned to encourage parents to take the next steps. Recently, her lessons paid off when a set of parents came to her office door to thank her for teaching her children to love, instead of loathe, weekly trips to the supermarket.
On a weekly demo and tour for a playgroup, preschoolers trailed Kruse through the activities and aisles like little puppies. They seemed eager to impart their own advice and thoughts about healthy foods.
Preschool mother Amanda Mayes was impressed.
“My favorite healthy food is carrots,” says Avery Mayes, Amanda’s 3-year-old daughter.
“And my favorite healthy snack is yogurt,” says 4-year-old sister Alexis.
Another mother, Carrie Rahfaldt, wasn’t along for the trip, but when her 4-year-old son Phillip was asked about his favorite healthy food, he replied cheerfully, “Donuts.”
When told, Carrie laughed.
“That’s awesome, and I promise I am not teaching him that donuts are healthy. Although we all enjoy a donut now and then in the Rahfaldt house.”
“Now and then” is a fine mantra for Phillip, the Rahfaldt family and all of us, says Kruse. Environment, parents and simple bad habits are the biggest hurdles to teaching kids to make healthy food choices. She hopes that her fun demos, tours and words of wisdom will help at least a little bit at home.
“Kids will make the same excuses as their parents, and my mom made it fun in the kitchen and showed me that it didn’t take too much time,” says Kruse. “If you make it fun driving through the drive-thru, then your kids will naturally want that. And the reverse goes for fun eating at home.”
For more information on Healthy Hawks, visit kumc.edu
Hy-Vee’s Courtney Kruse loves to work with kids to create some of her favorite mini-meal, lunchbox and snack ideas. Try some of these recipes and ideas with your little ones.
PEANUT BUTTER WITH ATTITUDE
Peanut Butter Pinwheels: Spread a whole-wheat or multi-grain tortilla shell with peanut butter, drizzle with a little honey, top with grated carrots and raisins. Roll up and slice into pinwheels.
BAKED FRITTATA MUFFINS
HEALTHY BAKED FALAFEL
A TWIST ON LUNCH
BREAKFAST FOR LUNCH