How Single Parents Can Keep Their Kids Healthy
By Dr. Richard Visser
Worrying about your child’s health is a never-ending job—but tackling it as a single parent can seem impossible. How can you address childhood obesity with your limited time and resources? I’ve got some great tips to make the job of single parents easier and more effective—and make you feel like the superparent you are!
You’re tired from work and haven’t seen your child all day, and he starts begging for soda. “Why not give him what he wants?” you think, feeling guilty about your lack of time, and not wanting to argue. But this is one battle worth fighting, and can become a great introduction to a talk about nutrition and healthy choices. Tell your child:
- Soft drinks are empty calories, with no nutritional value, and can make you overweight and unhealthy.
- A recent study by the American Heart Association showed people who drink one or more sodas per day—diet or regular—have higher rates of metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure), putting them at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
- Need more convincing? A soda contains about 10 teaspooons of sugar, 30 – 55 mg of caffeine, and 150 calories—and artificial flavors, colors, and chemicals. Ten minutes after drinking a soda, 10 teaspoons of sugar—your entire recommended daily allowance—race through your bloodstream, creating a sugar high. After 40 minutes, you’ve absorbed all the caffeine, so your blood pressure increases. After 45 minutes, your body produces dopamine, stimulating your brain’s pleasure centers exactly the same way heroin does. After 60 minutes, you experience a sugar crash, and crave more soda.
No wonder soft drinks are the number one source of calories in the American diet! That means mom or dad shouldn’t drink soda either, so tell your child that you’re “quitting” because you like to make healthy choices, too (and stick to your promise—and water).
Be honest with your child about how difficult it is to stay away from soft drinks and junk food and advertisements for them—they are everywhere, even schools. Discuss why advertising exists (to sell products), that advertisers target children (an easy sell), and that they will say anything to sell their products (“JunkJoos has real fruit!” but the label shows 1 percent juice). Ask your child what food advertisements she knows, and whether she believes the ads.
This conversation about advertising can be repeated every time your child starts nagging about junk food. “Why do you know this product? Does the advertiser care about your health?” Advertisers do research to learn how to hook kids, and unfortunately for you, their research revealed that single parents, and parents with multiple children, are most likely to give in to kids’ nagging. Redirect your child toward choosing one new fruit or vegetable to try. Now that’s quality time!
So you didn’t buy any soda or junk food at the store—what on earth will you feed your child? Use your spare time to create healthy snacks in advance so you don’t pacify your kid with whatever food happens to be convenient. You’re teaching them to make healthy choices for a lifetime, not just feeding them! Keep healthy, quick snacks (baby carrots, bananas, apples, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole-wheat crackers, peanut butter, unsweetened applesauce, and sliced cheese) at your child’s eye level in the fridge. Fill easy-open containers with single portions so kids don’t need your help.
Teach your child some cooking basics: let him measure and stir, add ingredients, or read the recipe aloud. Kids love helping, and who couldn’t use an extra hand—or more quality time! On days off, cook large meals and freeze extra portions in reheatable containers. Wrap food in foil for easy oven meals. Turn on your slow-cooker in the morning—and come home to a hot, complete meal. Make your own “Helper” by mixing spices with rice or noodles in containers, and they’ll be ready when needed.
Being a single parent is difficult, but support is available. Your school or local YMCA probably has an after-school program your child can attend. Find someone outside your family to be a mentor for your child—either a person you know or an individual involved with your child’s school. Ask this mentor to emphasize healthy food and lifestyle choices. When you teach your child about nourishing foods, you’ll have a partner as committed to healthy choices—and a happy future—as you are.
Dr. Richard Visser recently completed clinical research on 10,000 children and the obesity pandemic in Latin America and the United States. He’s the director of the Visser Wellness and Research Center in Aruba, as well as CEO of SimplyH, LLC and Simply Toddler, LLC in Los Angeles. Dr. Visser works worldwide to raise awareness of proper nutrition for healthy and fit toddlers and children.