Making healthful food choices and instilling good habits in kids is the focus of a new book featuring a range of families.
Every week during the summer, 7-year-old Eli Zukor-Zimmermann and his sister, Davie, 4, opened the box of produce from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that arrived at their Minneapolis home, pulled out the most unique looking vegetable and asked their father, Lee Zukor, to take their picture with it.
"Kohlrabi and celeriac were always big hits," Zukor said.
Between the CSA box, fresh produce from their own back-yard garden, plus other locally sourced food, the family has fully embraced its goal of making healthful eating a way of life. "We spend a lot of time choosing food, preparing and eating it together," said Zukor, founder of Simple, Good and Tasty (simplegoodandtasty.com), a website promoting local and organic foods. "We want to keep that momentum going."
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint venture between the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation that targets childhood obesity and promotes healthful lifestyles, has just published "Be Well," a book featuring stories of 15 families across the country who are making healthful food choices and trying to keep up their own momentum when it comes to instilling good habits.
"Parents have a tremendous influence over the behaviors and outcomes in kids," said Ginny Erlich, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. "Even in the midst of their hectic lives, parents can make simple changes -- limit portion sizes, offer healthy options, replace screen time with play time -- that have positive effects."
Christine Rangan, of Minneapolis, has four kids, ages 6 to 14, and is one of the mothers featured in "Be Well." Although the family recently moved into a home with a back yard perfect for gardening, a community garden in south Minneapolis served as their primary source of fresh produce for almost seven years. Every member of the family pitches in with the gardening tasks.
"This year, we planted strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and kale in our yard. There will be other things next year, too," Rangan said. "We didn't have much left to freeze since we ate almost everything we grew."
During the winter, the family eats seasonal produce and frozen vegetables. Rangan firmly believes in the importance of involving her kids in growing and choosing healthful food, no matter what the season. "In our house, you can have as many fresh vegetables as you want for snacks -- no limits," she said. "My kids love raw green beans and carrots, so there are always plenty on hand."
A lot of the tips shared in "Be Well" are concrete ways to stretch the family food dollar and still make healthful choices, Erlich said. "We were really impressed by the simple and elegant, yet very pragmatic solutions that busy parents have discovered."
The efforts to develop healthful eating habits seem to be paying off for both the Zukor-Zimmermann and Rangan families.
"Fast foods and processed foods are just not an option in our house. Eli and Davie don't ask for them," said Zukor, adding that he doesn't understand "why soda is ever even introduced as a choice to kids."
Growing their own produce is such a way of life for the Rangan children that they will soon be thinking about next year's garden.
"By January, we're looking at seed catalogs," said Rangan. "By March, we're starting seedlings in the house. We'll be ready when it's time to plant outside."
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.