One Town Gets Children to Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Try This at Home
Get kids to eat between five and nine servings of fruit and vegetables a
day, plus several servings of whole grains. Here's how:
- Detox your kitchen: "You're the policy maker in your own house,
so be proactive," says Economos, who's also the mother of a 5-year-old and
an 8-year-old. "Decide to stock mostly healthy foods and snacks so you
don't have to say no all the time." And let your kids eat their fill — as
long as it's of fresh fruit.
- Tempt their taste buds: It's OK to add a little healthy fat (such as
low-fat cheese, low-fat salad dressing, or olive oil) or the crunch of a baked,
whole-grain chip to "sell" a healthy food to your family. McLarney's
staff developed a vegetarian chili that they could barely give away, she says.
"Finally, we melted a dab of low-fat mozzarella on top and served it with
low-fat, whole-grain baked tortilla chips. Today, it's a popular
- Enlist kids to help in the kitchen: "The elementary schoolers
shucked hundreds of ears of local corn one morning, then ate it at lunch. They
still talk about it," McLarney says. Helping with food prep gives kids a
sense of pride about their product, and may make them more partial to the
results. Learning kitchen skills also helps prepare kids for a future of
- Conduct your own taste tests: Offer your child just a nibble of a
new food, instead of forcing her to eat a whole serving. If the healthy food
isn't a hit, just change the preparation or presentation and offer it again.
Better still: Test-drive a new food when your child has friends over. "If
one kid is enthusiastic, everyone wants to try it," McLarney notes. Letting
kids decide for themselves gives them a sense of control — and the thrill of
Grow your own (or visit a vegetable garden): "Seeing food grow,
and then actually eating it, is exciting for kids," says McLarney. Schools
in Somerville now grow herbs, tomatoes, and peppers in raised garden beds on
tiny swaths of school property that were once pavement, and she uses the crops
that are produced in the students' lunches, making a point of playing up the
many fresh, "homegrown" ingredients.
Step Three: Up Your Children's Activity
The Somerville YMCA faced challenges from Shape Up Somerville that have
stymied many parents: finding innovative places for active play, and getting
everybody — not just athletic, competitive kids — moving.
The Y's smart solution: "If you don't let kids know it's exercise,
they'll participate," says Joe Pinto, YMCA youth-services director. His
staff helped organize an after-school "just for fun" league in which
teams played games like bombardment (a gentler version of dodgeball) and,
later, soccer and basketball. "Even the nonathletic kids started to enjoy
the competition after a while," he says. And with no room for a playground,
the younger kids played jumping games indoors, building up eventually to a
friendly broad jump competition with their parents. The effects have reached
beyond kids' physiques. "My son is more independent now, and he's more
interested in whether whatever he's doing is healthy and will help him grow
stronger," says mom Sirleia Lartey, who attended the jumping meet with her
son Kelven Polite, age 8.