Not so long ago, a typical Saturday at the Taylor household consisted of video games, fast food dinner and banana splits for dessert. Evenings were spent cuddled up in front of a family DVD, munching on popcorn and guzzling soda. "I guess I figured we were really spending lots of quality time together," says Michelle, whose sons are nine and eleven. "I never realized that I was actually damaging my children’s health." A recent trip to the pediatrician woke Michelle up to the damage the junk food and sedentary activities were causing.
Both sons are considered overweight (their body mass index is over 90% for their age). The pediatrician pointed out that if the boys didn’t get their weight under control, they are more at risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Michelle Taylor knew it was time to take action. "This was our wake-up call. My father passed away from heart failure at a very young age. I didn’t want the same fate for my sons." She was leery of putting her boys on a drastic diet, figuring they would stage a coup if she immediately took away the videos games, movies and junk food. So, she started off gradually making healthy changes, and involved the boys in planning a healthier lifestyle for the family. Here are some of her tips:
- The Taylor family took a trip to the local bookstore and purchased a few cookbooks that focused on healthy eating. They learned to make lower-fat pizza with whole grain crust, and had a pizza party. They baked treats using applesauce in place of fats. And, overall, they began to find ways to make their favorite foods healthier. The biggest hit was the low-fat banana splits – the kids didn’t even notice a taste difference.
- A family trip to the grocery store was both helpful and educational. "We found so many alternatives to the junk we had been eating," says Michelle. And once I got the kids involved, they actually started having interest in raw vegetables. Now, one of their favorite snacks is hummus dip with carrots and celery. The family also found that they didn’t notice much of a difference when replacing white flour with whole grains, and full-fat products with reduced or non-fat.
- Soda was the first thing to be eliminated from the family shopping trip. Michelle purchased "cool" water bottles (two for each member of the family) and kept them in the fridge, filled up with icy water. Once the family had been without soda for a few days, they didn’t miss it. In fact, Michelle says that recently the family went to a movie and ordered soda as a special treat. "No one could finish their sodas – they complained that they tasted too sweet, too syrupy."
- Jess, Michelle’s husband, took everyone’s bike to the shop for new tires and a tune-up. The family began taking bike rides every evening, or going on walks together. Now, instead of vegging in front of a DVD every night, they engage in healthy physical activity.
- The family also joined a gym that offers tennis and racquetball, basketball, and a climbing wall. "The gym is very family friendly," says Michelle, "and we pay for the membership with the money we save at the grocery store and video store.
- Both boys also began pursuing other interests. Nine-year-old Michael decided he’d like to learn martial arts. He takes a karate lesson twice a week now, instead of playing video games. Eleven-year-old Nathan signed up for the swim team at the gym. Both boys still play video games, but only occasionally. "There’s too much other cool stuff to do," says Michael.
The entire Taylor family is enjoying their new lifestyle, and feel much healthier. Both boys have begun to lose weight at a slow, healthy rate. They still go out for a treat occasionally, and enjoy a movie once a month or so. Now, instead of sitting next to each other watching a DVD, they’re biking along and talking to each other. Nathan says, "Our family rocks!"
Katie Franklin is a researcher and writer on parenting, children and child development. She is a regular contributor at Child Development Media She also contributes to the Child Development Media Blog
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