Teaching kids the importance of eating right today is a key responsibility of being a parent. Current numbers tell us that one in three U.S. adults is obese, two-thirds are overweight, and one in five children is obese! Medical costs related to the disease are estimated to be $80 billion and the overall impact to the economy to be more than $100 billion.

My kids are now 13 and 10 years old and the days when I analyzed and controlled every item of food that went into their growing bodies is long gone. I still scrutinize their food when we sit down to dinner and when they lethargically inhale their breakfasts before school, but they are making lots of choices on their own now. From choosing items at the a-la-carte line at lunch to gnawing on snacks after school, they know what they want to eat and drink and can go for it.

And while not every selection is a healthy one, they do know that they need to use food to fuel their bodies. My daughter is a dancer. My son plays tackle football. And all of us run together, too. (And yes, they both beat me at the last 5k we ran together.)

I’ve been running races for years and my kids have watched me carefully choose my meals before a long run and down chocolate milk when I’m finished. They understand the power of protein and realize that sugar isn’t the way to wake up their tired bodies before a practice. We’ve had a great summer of searching for fresh sweet corn from our favorite farmers at area farmers’ markets and local food stands. And we’ve enjoyed our own harvests of tomatoes, zucchini and carrots from our garden. (And no, the picky eater at my house doesn’t eat most of those things, but we’re working on it…every day.)

No question that obesity is a hard problem to fix as a whole, but not impossible. Not when you break it down. Make sure that you eat more healthy foods such as lean meats, and lots of vegetables and fruits. Build up those bones with milk and dairy. But you can’t simply dictate these instructions and expect them to ‘get it.’ As parents, we need to work to set good examples and teach healthy habits to our kids.

I want my kiddos to be athletic. I’m not saying that my kids and I don’t enjoy ice cream cones or cookies. (We do!! And do so wholeheartedly.) But they also know that if they want to get through rehearsal or practice without running of gas, they have to fill their tanks with the right fuel.

But it starts with understanding how the power of CHOICE (about what you eat and how much you move) will make all the difference. CHOOSE to balance the healthy foods and the snacks at the next meal. CHOOSE to walk the dog every single day! While the kids are at practice, CHOOSE to jog around the park. Don’t just fill up, FUEL up to match your activity and it’ll all balance out.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is a communications specialist with the Iowa Farm Bureau.