Parents have long admonished their kids not to play with their food. But what if that’s exactly how to get them to eat — and eat healthy?
“Kids just love to get their hands dirty,” says Dr. Keith Somers, pediatrician and 5-2-1-0 Speaker Series participant.
The speaker series features local experts passionate about helping families achieve healthy lifestyles with the 5-2-1-0 approach: five servings of fruits or vegetables, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour of exercise and replacing sugary drinks with water each day.
“Whether dumping [ingredients] into the bowl, measuring something, counting out different things, it’s really becoming more inclusive so they don’t feel like they just show up to eat,” says Somers of encouraging kids’ involvement.
The family interaction, the tactile sensations, the creativity — all of it can help kids eat healthy, he says.
The 5-2-1-0 series kicks off today, Nov. 10, at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens with Somers and Anne Marie Kuchera, project director for community health at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
A Let’s Move Pittsburgh initiative, 5-2-1-0 aims to address families’ immediate health as well as chronic health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, says Somers.
The goal is to involve families with a healthy lifestyle and see chronic health problems diminish over time, he says.
The issue isn’t a lack of interest in living healthy, but in implementing the changes.
“In today’s world, a lot of challenges are barriers for families, through parents working, schedules and activities. [We’re] trying to help families find the balance.”
For a head start, Somers offers some tips:
To get kids eating five fruits or veggies a day, cut up several items at once and have them ready to snack on the rest of the week. Finger foods usually win out over whole foods, Somers says.
To cut down on screen time, Somers recommends using a timer. And don’t focus on keeping devices off-limits entirely, he says.
“If it’s always off-limits, then it becomes this desired thing.”
For the one hour of activity, Somers suggests simplicity. Playing tag in the front yard, hitting the swing sets and family hikes are easy and free.
Somers says to swap soda for water, while still allowing milk and juice at meal time. Some juices contain added sugar, which contributes to weight gain and tooth decay, says Somers.
While Somers encourages more families to consider healthy or specifically plant-based eating, he says diet alone can’t guarantee health.
“For me, it’s not about there’s one way to do this, it’s about expanding the conversation because there are so many opportunities and options for families to think about.”
Somers hopes the series will spark a conversation with attendees, rather than administering doctor’s orders.
“They come with more knowledge than they think they may have.”
The first 5-2-1-0 Speaker Series event is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, Nov. 10, at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.
On Jan. 12, the theme of “5-2-1-0 in Your Kitchen” engages a conversation with a chef and registered dietitian on how to boost fruit and vegetable intake with healthy, kid-friendly meals.