To me, the health of our children is the most important issue we're facing today, both as families and as a country. One out of every three kids is overweight or obese -- more than triple what the number was when I was growing up. People, this is an epidemic! And it's time for us to stop the trend.
The healthy crusade starts at home. Years ago, when I was teaching 30-Minute Meals in grocery stores, kids would walk by and say, "That smells so good. I want to try some!" And the mother would say, "Oh, no. You don't like that." It makes me angry to think about it. Parents ask me all the time: "How do you fix a picky eater?" Start with yourself. When you only feed a kid chicken nuggets, you can't be surprised when she fights you about trying vegetables later in life. Even if you're a picky eater, you have to make a choice to have your kids try a little bit of everything.
Many of you are doing your part on the home front but don't know how to improve food at school. To start, we all have to be loudmouths. I travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss these topics with members of Congress, but you can effect real change in your own community. Parents should talk to school administrators and demand to see positive changes in the lunch program. For some children, it's their only access to nutritious food, and possibly their only meal all day.
My Yum-o! organization provides healthful recipes to the New York City school system, like Cheesy Mac and Trees. You can't take away kids' favorite meals, but there are smart ways to prepare them. Just by switching to whole wheat pasta, you're adding an enormous amount of protein and fiber.
All of this helps. But the only way to make real, meaningful social change is to get your children excited about becoming healthier. Grown-ups can talk all day about it, but who cares? Nothing's going to happen unless young people become part of the process, and adults respect them enough to hear their ideas. Through my work with Yum-o!, I've learned that kids are willing to change -- we just need to give them the chance.
YUM-O! CHEAT SHEET
A little more about what we do.
COOK: We offer healthy, affordable, easy recipes and cooking tips, which together act like an online home-ec course.
FEED: We work with organizations around the country to help end childhood hunger. We're also trying to increase funding for school food and summer food programs so that kids have access to nutritious food year-round.
FUND: We offer scholarships to graduating high school seniors who want to go into food-related fields. Log on to yum-o.org and see what else we're up to!