"Mom, I want a 'tato," my sweet toddler started saying after we'd dropped off her big sister at school. The previous few mornings when I'd needed a caffeine fix from the drive-through, I'd found something fairly inexpensive and kid-friendly for my daughter to eat, which seemed to be the hash browns. Of course, you actually got two for a dollar and some change, so guess who ate the second one? Fried potato became the expected treat, sort of the way the chicken sandwich has been the treat of choice for my older daughter. This is far from the way our family usually eats at home. Yet somehow, we got into the habit of having a reason for consuming fast food every few days. Seemed ironic that we'd buy whole wheat bread and eat leaner, fresher foods at home, yet we'd eat white bread and fried food from the drive-through because that's what was served. Someone out there could make the argument that you can order salads from the menu. But if we had time to sit at the table and eat a salad, we probably wouldn't be headed through the drive-through anyway.
Our family succeeded in avoiding fast food restaurants most of the time in the 40-day Lent period leading up to Easter. Yet roughly once every ten days we found reasons to stop. Once, because in the middle of an errand-filled day we ran out of snacks and drinks in the car. Another time because I had to use the wi-fi to post a blog entry. The most encouraging thing for us is that we no longer crave the grease-laden, overprocessed food choices that we had been getting a taste for every few days. My toddler stopped asking for fried potato cakes. I still drink a lot of iced tea, but I consistently brew it now at home. Overall, the girls are satisfied with whole wheat sandwiches and snacks that we take along with us. I think we may be saving a few dollars, too.
Still frustrated that our Fast Food Fast hadn't been entirely successful, I contacted fitness and health expert Duston Morris, PhD. Since our family is somewhat physically active and generally eats well at home, I tried to hint around for his permission to consume some of the tasty "treats." Like the coach and scholar that he is, Morris laid it out clearly for me, "The American diet is not only adding fuel to the obesity epidemic, it is literally killing us. Because we eat about 70,000 meals in a lifetime, what we put in our body impacts our overall health. Today, most chronic disease and illness can be related to poor dietary choices." Morris uses the combination of his doctorate degree in health science and his numerous certifications as a fitness trainer to help clients at 3 Sport Fitness
and Spring River Wellness Center in the Midwest. He has also partnered to create a fitness curriculum for school-aged children called Alive with Mission Me
Morris stresses that parents must model good eating habits for their children. He makes it abundantly clear that what kids eat matters, from the very beginning of their lives. He's not saying we need to count calories or fat grams, but that we need to teach children very early to make good food choices. "The sooner you start kids on a healthy diet, the more likely they are to stick with it when they become older." Morris says our tastebuds really do start adapting to the kinds of foods we eat at a young age. So, that craving my toddler seemed to be developing for hashbrowns was real.
*Tomorrow: Tips for a busy family wanting to get out of the fast food line, plus habits of elite athletes that can also keep our kids healthy!