If I invited your family over for dinner and had you sign a disclaimer that you would not hold me responsible for any harm that would come to your children from eating the food they were about to be served, would you think twice about allowing them to eat the food?
Everyday, we serve our children food that is known to increase their risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, and we think we are showing them love in the process.
So what is a parent to do? How about starting by making a commitment as a family or organization to provide an environment that ensures that healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice at your next picnic.
You might find this difficult at first. Experts recommend that children should limit their empty calories to 100 to 150 per day. One can of regular soda, two cookies or one cup of ice cream each meet or exceed this limit, so the average picnic could exceed a childs limit for an entire week.
Most people have ideas of foods that make a picnic special, and substituting other foods can create a rebellion. First, contact everyone involved in the event and reach an agreement to prepare healthier foods. Remind them that the health of our children is at stake. If you still have doubts, watch HBOs, The Weight of the Nation. Its free on the Internet.
Once you have made the commitment to healthier social events for your children, the real work begins. Remember we dont want to get rid of all of our favorite foods; we just want the healthier option to be the default.
How to get started? Aim to increase the fruit and vegetable options served. Ditch the high-calorie beverages and serve water, fruit-juice punches made with sparkling water, fat-free milk or soymilk.
Provide cut-up fruit on the dessert table and limit the number of desserts served. When cutting the portions of the dessert, cut smaller servings. We tend to take one of something, and no matter what size it is, we consider this one serving.
The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet by Barbara Rolls contains wonderful ideas for redesigning recipes. Cooking Light magazine has been remaking readers favorite recipes for years. Many of their best recipes are posted online at their website. MyPlate.gov is a great resource. If you do a Google search of Healthy Picnic Recipes, you will get more than 7,000,000 results.
At a well-known childrens hospital, favorite recipes include tacos made with finely chopped zucchini added to the meat, vegetarian lasagna made with a mix of sautéed seasonal vegetables added to the tomato sauce, and whole grain jam squares, made with whole-wheat flour and oatmeal. Children eat these and ask for more.
If everyone reading this article made one change in what they bring to their next social event, imagine how powerful this would be. We can improve the health of our children.
Lynn Parker Klees is instructor and personal nutrition coach with Penn States department of nutritional sciences. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.