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Healthy nutrition habits set kids up for success – Choctaw Nation

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity affects 14.7 million children between 2-19 years old. Obesity is a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC sex-specific BMI-for-age growth charts.

Just like in adults, obesity in children increases their risk of obesity-related conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems. The key to solving this problem starts at an early age.

Robin Linam, with Choctaw Nation Child Nutrition, says that the early years are important.

“When they’re young, their development sets them up for the rest of their life,” said Linam. “And nutrition plays a huge part in their development.”

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Dietary Guidelines, mothers should breastfeed from birth, if possible, for about the first six months. If that’s not possible, they recommend an iron-fortified commercial infant formula.

After six months, complementary foods and beverages can be added to their regular diet.

By 12 months, infants should continue healthy eating as they begin to switch to developmentally appropriate foods and drinks.

Healthy eating is important in every stage of life, and even though nutrient needs vary across life stages, the foods and beverages that individuals should eat over their lifespan are remarkably consistent.

For example, to help their children grow strong, parents should include the same fruits and vegetables they eat in meals and snacks. However, how much fruit and vegetables your child needs depends on their age and activity level.

General guidelines from the USDA MyPlate plan are:

  • 12 to 23 months – ½ to 1 cup of fruit and 2/3 to 1 cup of vegetables
  • 2 to 4 years – 1 to 1 ½ cups of fruit and 1 to 2 cups of vegetables
  • 4 to 8 years – 1 to 2 cups of fruit and 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of vegetables

You can serve fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. With canned vegetables, look for options that are low in sodium. Choose canned or frozen fruits with little to no added sugar. The same guidelines apply to choices for adults.

Britney Speer, one of six registered dieticians with the Choctaw Nation, says the USDA’s MyPlate is a good tool for planning healthy meals.

“My favorite resource is myplate.gov; it’s a great resource,” said Speer.

MyPlate replaced the older versions of the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011. The MyPlate Plan shows your food group targets. What and how much should you eat within your calorie allowance? Your food plan is personalized based on age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.

“The pyramids could have been confusing. How much of this am I supposed to have? How do I incorporate that? Whereas my plate really simplifies it, half your plate should be fruits and vegetables; A quarter of your plate is protein; and the other part is grains,” said Speer.

While the MyPlate recommendations are good, portions of the country don’t have access to the recommended foods.

A recent study by the Native American Agriculture Fund found that during the pandemic, 56 percent of survey respondents across the country experienced food insecurity, with 31 percent experiencing very low food security.

Many families living in the Choctaw Nation don’t have easy access to these food recommendations either. If you live in a rural area and are more than 10 miles from the nearest supermarket, then the USDA classifies that as a food desert.

Much of the Choctaw Nation falls under this food desert status. The Nation has taken steps to combat these food deserts by opening stores and making fresh fruits, vegetables and meat available to people in the area.

Another way the Nation is helping to alleviate food insecurity is by providing free meals to any child who needs one through the Child Nutrition Program.

“Child Nutrition is a department within the Choctaw Nation that provides meals to any child from one to 18 years old,” said Linam.

Children do not need to be CDIB cardholders to qualify for the meals.

There are two different programs children can participate in. One is the At-Risk program that runs during the school year.

“A lot of kids get breakfast and lunch at school, but when they go home, they might not have a meal to eat,” Linam explained. “So, we have sites throughout the whole Choctaw Nation reservation that will be open during after-school hours that a kid can walk into and get a free meal.”

The second program is the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

“During our SFSP, when kids are out of school, we provide grab-and-go meals for the kids to take home, which provide five days of meals for the week. And this year, we will start giving breakfast with that,” said Linam.

Speer highlights the importance of breakfast.

“Breakfast is such an important part of a balanced diet. It helps get your body started,” said Speer. “It’s important for helping with improved test scores and academic success.”

In 2023, from the second week of May to the second week of August, Child Nutrition served 310,000 meals to kids who may have otherwise gone hungry.

With the lack of easy accessibility, Linam says that getting this food to the kids is important.

“Especially for kids in rural areas, the meals aren’t as accessible. That’s why we do our child nutrition programs; there are so many kids that are absolutely missed,” said Linam. “We will not only provide for our tribal children but all children; we want to make sure they’re not going hungry.”

It’s never too late to start eating better; a healthy eating plan can be started at any stage of life.

Using the opportunity to change the diets of the adults in your family while planning your child’s diet is a great way to lead by example.

Making small changes can add up to big differences. Choosing nutrient-dense and low-sodium foods such as plain, low-fat yogurt with fruit instead of full-fat yogurt with added sugars, frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables and vegetable or olive oil instead of butter can make a difference in your family’s overall health.

Starting good, healthy eating habits for your children will help them grow up strong, giving them a headstart on a long life.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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