When you think about raising healthy kids, is helping them prevent cancer when they're older one of your motivators? Let's be honest—most of us busy parents focus a lot more on making sure our kids eat enough so that they have energy and meet their basic nutrient needs. We also want them to grow and develop optimally without gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. But while all of these motivators for feeding kids well are important, so, too, is preventing cancer and other diet- and lifestyle-related diseases.
To help parents help their kids eat and live better and prevent future cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and SuperKids Nutrition, Inc. created a campaign called Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow. To learn more about the initiative, I interviewed registered dietitian Melissa Halas-Liang, founder of SuperKids Nutrition, Inc. She's thrilled to have teamed up with AICR to help parents help their kids eat and live better. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
EZ: Your enthusiasm for nutrition comes through in all the work you do with SuperKids Nutrition—but even more so with this new campaign. What excited you to be a key part of the Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow campaign?
MHL: This campaign reflects why I went into nutrition. It's about preventive wellness, healthy kids, and empowering people to make healthier choices. Personally, I've seen friends lose parents to cancer at an early age, and it's awful at any age. Every child deserves a healthy lifestyle to protect him or her as much as possible from that scary six-letter word. I'm most excited to help families start cancer prevention now. I look at children and see their potential—if they're nourished right, they can grow up to lead healthy lives and achieve their dreams. And it's never too late to get started. I'm especially excited to work on this campaign with the AICR because their philosophy mirrors my own: food is powerful and essential to both daily and long-term good health.
EZ: I probably speak for many parents when I say that, except for making sure our kids wear enough sunscreen when they're outdoors, we don't think much about protecting our kids from future cancer. But we should, right?
MHL: Excellent question! The honest truth is, we should care, because how we raise our kids does matter when it comes to future cancer risk. Most parents may not know that cancer prevention starts at an early age. Research shows that about one in three cancers in the U.S. could be prevented every year if kids eat smart, move more, and stay lean throughout their lives. Just like parents teach children to look both ways before they cross the street for safety–we need to protect our kids from the danger of cancer with the foods they eat. That means promoting healthy foods, playing active games instead of sedentary video games, and teaching them how to cook. It may sound like a lot, but I promise that once you start showing your kids how to live in a healthier way, you'll feel so good—and won't go back to less healthful habits. Our campaign makes it fun and easy to eat better and move more to reduce the likelihood of future cancer.
EZ: Why is it so vital for parents to model healthful habits in order to raise kids who eat nutritiously and stay fit?
MHL: To put it bluntly, we need to model healthy habits because our kids look up to us more than you would ever believe. They want to be like us and will learn habits from us. They'll also adopt our beliefs. For example, if we repeatedly say, "Veggies are gross," or "I hate exercising," or "I don't like my fat tummy," guess what? Our kids won't want to eat veggies or do any exercise. Plus, they're going to learn to hate their bodies. My biggest piece of advice to parents is to be the type of person you want your kids to be and work your best to increase the times you offer foods you know can protect their bodies.
EZ: What are some things parents can do to help their kids grow into healthier adults and reduce their life-long cancer risk?
MHL: Parents can encourage their kids to monitor their healthy habits. For example, they can track the different colors of healthy foods they eat or the whole grains they include at meals. They can also keep track of the activities they engage in each day. Making healthy habits objective and measurable helps kids stay motivated. Here are five things parents and their kids can do today to get on a healthier eating and fitness track:
- Think in color. Tracking your food colors (fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, spices and herbs) with the Super Crew Colorful Food Tracker will help you eat at least four colors a day faster than you think.
- Pick plant foods. Make a delicious meal using plant-based protein a few times a week. It's easy, filling and healthy.
- Just dance. Dance or play your way to an active you! Moving your body helps you think more clearly, play longer, and feel better! It also reduces cancer risk.
- Break it up. Find fun ways to get and stay active and grow strong by breaking up your 60 minutes of exercise into 15-30 minutes at time. Tracking your exercise can also help you stay motivated.
- Make your own takeout. Forget delivery for family pizza night! Have fun making your own–it's more nutritious and can help you family stay healthy and happy!
- Set some goals. Commit to one to three healthy actions each month. Try a new recipe together, aim to eat more whole grains, or go on weekend family hikes—then build on these healthy new habits together as a family.
Image of father and daughter playing in summer via Shutterstock.