Growing healthy kids
Tulsa moms share their advice for raising healthy children.
Like most moms, Nancy Smith worries about her children’s nutrition. But she says her concern escalated about a year ago when she read a report from the Governor’s Office that ranked Oklahoma at the bottom of the country in terms of health and fitness. She decided to do something about it — and not just for her family but for others as well.
Smith set out to teach children how to prepare healthful meals for their families. And, she thought, who better to show them than her 9-year-old daughter?
Remmi Smith was 4 when she started helping her mom in the kitchen. By the time she was 6 or 7, she was preparing full meals for her family on her own.
Now, Remmi is working with her mom to teach other young people how to make nutritious meals. Together, they created “Cook Time with Remmi,” a cooking show for kids, by kids.
In pigtails and an apron, Remmi walks viewers through simple recipes, step by step. Each episode includes recipes for a main dish, a side dish and a salad.
The fourth-grader says her favorite meal, both to cook and to eat, is Grandma’s gourmet chicken with rice and summer salad with hearts of palm.
Remmi says she knows eating nutritious meals is important, and she wants to help other kids learn that as well.
“If kids make their own food, they can be more healthy,” she says.
But eating a nutritious diet is only one part of the fitness puzzle. Physical activity is another critical piece. Remmi says she gets her exercise by rollerblading and swimming, two of her favorite activities.
In the Hinson residence, exercise is not an issue. Pat Hinson says all three of her teenagers are involved in sports and enjoy working out at the YMCA, where the family has a membership.
She attributes her children’s athleticism to the example she and her husband have set.
“We both work out,” Hinson says.
Their routine includes running three to four days a week and lifting weights one day a week at the YMCA.
For Hinson, fast food is the biggest source of contention in the battle to keep her kids, ages 14, 16 and 17, healthy.
“We don’t give them money for fast food,” Hinson says. “If they want it, they have to spend their own money.”
The family eats out once every week or two, but a home-cooked meal is much preferred, she says.
Sleep is key to healthy, happy children in the Determan family. In fact, mother of two Deedra Determan says her friends call her the “sleep nazi.”
Her children, ages 4 and 5, go to bed each night at 8 on the dot. The routine keeps them from getting rundown and cranky, she says. They also take a 60- to 90-minute nap each afternoon.
“They operate better with a nap,” says Determan, co-founder of 918moms.com, an online community where Tulsa-area parents connect. “Even if they don’t fall asleep, they have quiet time in their room to read a book or do a puzzle. It’s their down time.”
Before bedtime, the family exercises together.Whether it’s collecting bugs outside or playing hide-and-seek in the house, the goal is to have fun together, Determan says.
“If they’re having fun, they don’t realize they’re exercising,” she says.
That strategy also works for dietician and mom Rachel Vincent, who says the trampoline was the “best invention ever” for her family.
It’s something the whole family can enjoy and it’s great exercise, says Vincent, the food and nutrition manager at St. John Hospital in Owasso.
As a dietician, Vincent discourages parents from practicing the “clean plate club” mentality.
“Promoting cleaning your plate is not a good idea,” she says. “That becomes a habit,” which will stretch into adulthood. Instead, have small children eat just one bite of everything you offer.
“Most kids won’t let themselves starve,” she says.
Vincent also recommends using smaller plates for smaller kids.
“It’s a better representation,” she says.
If children aren’t eating enough, she recommends cutting out appetite curbers such as soda and juice. Also, encourage physical activity.
“They’ll be hungry if they get exercise,” she says.
But Vincent’s No. 1 piece of advice for parents is to set a good example for their kids.
“Nutrition is a family thing,” she says.
Pediatricians Matt James and Walter Exon weigh in on some of the most pressing health concerns they see in their practice.
Setting an example
Practice what you preach. Exon says that if one parent has a weight problem, there’s a 50 percent chance the child will, too. If both parents have a weight problem, that chance increases to 80 percent.
Get them. James says all the science there is shows that vaccines are safe.
“Vaccinations are the most important thing we do as pediatricians,” James says.
Immunizations save more lives and protect from more diseases than any other medical practice, James adds. This includes Gardasil, which prevents certain strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
James says he understands that parents have concerns about the treatment because HPV is sexually transmitted, but parents need to realize that, with this vaccine, they have an opportunity to protect their daughters not just from genital warts but also from cancer. Girls can get the treatment as young as 11, but they can wait until their teen years, too, he says.
“Make sure they get it before they start having sex,” James says.
It’s OK to skip them, unless your child is a picky eater. Then, Exon says to make sure the vitamin includes iron, the nutrient most likely missing from a picky eater’s diet. Vitamin deficiency is almost unheard of in this country, he says.
Preventing the spread of germs
Nothing is more effective than good, old-fashioned hand washing. When soap and water aren’t available, antibacterial hand gels are just as effective, James says. Just make sure they have alcohol to kill bacteria.
Go for diet or sugar-free sodas. Exon says not to worry about artificial sweeteners. There is no scientific evidence that they pose any health risk, he says. Regular pop, on the other hand, is a major culprit of weight gain, he says.
“If you drink a can of pop a day, you’ll gain 12 pounds a year,” Exon says.
Juice often has excess sugar, he adds.
Sending sick children to school
James says to keep your children home if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher or if they are vomiting or having diarrhea. If it’s just the sniffles or a runny nose, send them to school, he says.
“It’s OK to go out once or twice a month,” Exon says.
But he warns that all restaurant portions are too big, and he says to stay away from buffets altogether. He also recommends that children take their lunch to school because so many cafeterias are full of pizza and vending machine junk food.
TV and computer time
Limit it. Children of any age should spend no more than two hours a day watching TV or on the computer outside of school work, James says.
To get them out of the house and doing something physical, do it with them. James suggests playing ball or going for a bike ride.
Forcing your children to clean their plates
Don’t do it. Instead, Exon says to put good, healthy foods out and let the child determine what to eat. He suggests kid-friendly foods such as yogurt, peanut butter and jelly, fruit and raisins.
“I’ve got childhood trauma from my father forcing me to eat peas,” Exon says. “I still won’t go near peas.”
Editor’s note: Dr. James is a pediatrician and internal medicine physician with the OMNI Medical Group in Sand Springs. Dr. Exon has been practicing pediatrics for 32 years. He works at the Utica Park Clinic.