Food for thought

June 28, 2011


Clearview Early Childhood Center recently wrapped up a series of parent-child classes designed to encourage healthy lifestyles for the entire family.

“A ‘Clear View’ to a Healthier You” was a series of three family-based nutrition and fitness education classes aimed at Clearview parents, children and staff. The program taught participants how to make good food choices and incorporate daily exercise into their routines.

The classes were funded by the Martinsville City Public Schools Endowment and Smart Beginnings. They were led by Lisa Law Liberty and Dee Joyce from the local Virginia Cooperative Extension office’s 4-H Family Nutrition Program.

“We’re trying to beat childhood obesity because it’s the highest it’s ever been,” Liberty said.

The third session attracted 15 parents and 20 children plus Clearview teachers and staff.

“I feel like the program has been a great success because the parents have really gotten into it and enjoyed the interactive classes,” said Clearview Director Sheilah Williams, who also is director of school nutrition services for the division. “It’s been so wonderful to hear parents come back and talk about changes they had made in just a week.”

Since taking the classes, participant Catina King said, “I’ve cut out all the sodas” and begun drinking water and milk instead. “We’re trying to do more fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks. She seems to like the new snacks,” King said of her daughter LynAsshia, 4.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I wish they would do it more often,” King said of the classes.

Danny Garman and his wife, Nikki, attended all three sessions. Their daughter, Danika, 4, attends Clearview, and their son, Dante, attends Albert Harris Elementary School.

Before, Danny Garman said, “I would be eating fast food at least two or three times a week. At home, we cook differently now.”

During the last class, Nikki Garman shared that she had switched to grilled chicken instead of hamburger when the family goes out to eat.

“It told us how to be better food role models for our children,” Danny Garman said. “In our household, we get juice, water, green tea — no sodas.”

He said he and his wife are trying to “eliminate bad habits before it gets passed on to them (the children).”

In one class, Liberty and Joyce showed parents test tubes of “fat” to illustrate how much fat is in fast food and other foods people commonly eat.

“I think it was an eye-opener,” Liberty said.

They also discussed the importance of reading ingredient lists and nutrition facts when buying food. Parents learned how to convert grams of sugar into actual teaspoons — just divide the number of grams by four.

This reveals that “some sodas have as much as 20 teaspoons of sugar,” Liberty said. “Excess sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes and chronic heart conditions.”

People need to drink lots of plain water, not just sodas and sports drinks, because sugary drinks are “where a lot of weight gain comes from,” Liberty said. Sports drinks are high in sodium, which makes the body retain fluid.

Each class gave parents ideas of healthier, kid-friendly meals and snacks they can make at home with common ingredients. Suggestions included a whole-wheat wrap with vegetables, yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and granola, and snacks such as fresh fruit and flavored rice cakes with low-fat cream cheese for dipping.

Fruits and vegetables are the two food groups “we never get enough of,” Liberty told parents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently revamped the old food pyramid into the “My Plate” model. The nutrition model recommends filling half a plate with fruits and vegetables; one quarter should be grains; and the other quarter should be protein, which can be meat, poultry, seafood, nuts or beans.

They also discussed easy ways to exercise at home and taught parents some games they can play with their children to get them moving more.

“All it takes is just raising that heart rate up,” Liberty said. “Even just ‘dust and dance’” — turning on music and dancing while you do housework — is helpful.

Clearview started a Happy Feet Walking Club two years ago to increase the amount of physical activity children get at school. The school added the nutrition classes because food choices have a great impact on a child’s development, performance and behavior.

During the school day, teachers used the “Color Me Healthy” curriculum to teach children about nutrition, eating healthfully and exercise.

“The earlier you start with nutrition lessons, the better, before kids form bad eating habits,” Williams said.

Kim Barto is community outreach and grants coordinator for the Martinsville Schools.


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