From pyramids to plates: Teaching children to live healthy lifestyles

Staff Sgt. Kevin Chandler and his son, Aidan, rest during a recent hike at Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (Courtesy photo by Amy Chandler)

Staff Sgt. Kevin Chandler and his son, Aidan, rest during a recent hike at Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (Courtesy photo by Amy Chandler)

The new ChooseMyPlate diagram replaces the old USDA Food Pyramid to help with healthier food choices and portion control.

The new ChooseMyPlate diagram replaces the old USDA Food Pyramid to help with healthier food choices and portion control.

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- From the moment our children come into the world -- kicking and screaming -- we parents are bombarded with a variety of decisions to make on their behalf. Should they be breastfed or get formula? Should they be vaccinated? Is it better to circumcise or not to circumcise?

These questions fly at new parents with all the speed and subtlety of a Mack truck. And they don't stop; they just keep coming from all directions. The first time I saw my son Aidan in my wife's arms, I realized I had to be on top of my game from that point forward when it came to decisions for my family. Luckily for me, as parents gain experience they learn to deal with the bombardment and make sound decisions for their children's welfare. Having a wife like mine doesn't hurt either.

One of the most important decisions parents face is what kind of lifestyle we want to teach to our kids. There is no one correct answer, believe me I've searched Google. While there is a lot of helpful information readily available, parents ultimately must construct their own set of values and behaviors to instill in their children.

Now that Aidan is six, my wife and I are trying to teach him the importance of being healthy. Fortunately, we live in California where the weather and available activities make exercising easy. We have recently exposed him to hiking (which he loves) and signed him up for swimming lessons (which he also loves). We make sure we take him out to the park and let him ride his bike regularly. We have discovered that with a little bit of effort and resourcefulness, keeping a kid active is fairly easy.

The area that we, and an increasing amount of Americans, have more difficulty with is teaching him about nutrition. Recently, the USDA replaced the food pyramid of the past with a new food plate diagram. Among the agency's many helpful tips accompanying the diagram, they recommend covering half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Once again, living in California gives us the upper hand since there are so many fresh fruits and vegetables at our disposal.

I thought one of the best pieces of advice offered was to enjoy food, just do it in smaller portions. I think it's important to teach our kids how to be realistic in their nutritional choices instead of giving them the impression we can binge on junk then either starve or only eat celery and lemon juice or whatever other crackpot diet is the latest trend. The USDA's new instructions aim at teaching the importance of balance and moderation.

After looking at the USDA's new guidelines (www.choosemyplate.gov) I felt good about the choices my wife Amy and I are making for our family. We only buy whole grain bread and low-fat milk, we encourage my son to eat apples, grapes and all the other healthy foods he likes. Now, if they could only make a nutritious form of ice cream...