By Doug Morin
Executive Director, Coachella Valley Volunteer in Medicine, Indio

Nourishing the mind and body properly is serious business. In these crazy- busy times, nutrition is getting lost somewhere on the family to-do list and we need to guide our youngsters and train their taste buds. A nutritious diet helps kids grow and learn as well as preventing obesity and weight-related diseases. A couple of weeks ago, the American Heart Association released a new statement noting that an analysis of 2007-08 survey results revealed that about 91 percent of youngster did not have healthy diets. Those between 2 and 19 get most of their calories from simple carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and desserts.

Lack of physical activity is another concern. Among 6- to 11-year-olds, half of boys and about a third of girls got the recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise. Between 16 and 19 year of age, those percentages dropped to 10 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls. Yes, they have heavy school work to master, and many have part-time jobs, but they’re not healthy. Parents can teach by their own food habits. Regular family meals together are important – not only can you catch up on your kids’ daily lives, dining together is an ideal opportunity to talk and listen to your kids without the distraction of TV, phones, or computers. And you can make sure they’re eating nourishing food and remind them that calcium will help them grow taller, look better, and get stronger, and iron will help them do better on tests.

By providing healthy food, you can help stabilize their moods and energy levels, sharpen their minds, and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults. Kids who enjoy breakfast every day have better memories, more stable moods and energy, and score higher on tests. Eating a breakfast high in quality protein—from enriched cereal, yogurt, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, or fish—can even help teenagers lose weight. Children who have breakfast every day have been shown to have better memories, more stable moods and energy, and score higher on tests.

Julia Steinberger, director of pediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota, recently stated that instead of taking a wait-and-see approach by treating disease later in adulthood, we should help children maintain the standards of ideal cardiovascular health that most children are born with. “It’s much harder to turn back the clock,” she added.

To give your child a nutritious diet, make fruit and vegetables half of what is on the plate; choose healthy sources of protein, like lean meat, nuts and eggs; serve whole-grain breads and cereal for their high fiber; broil, grill or steam foods instead of frying; and offer water or milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and sodas. Fruit, fresh veggies, trail mix, and dried fruit are healthy snacks.