Our 7-year-old, Elise, has been looking forward to summer camp for months. Though she had a choice of going to a horseback riding camp, a soccer camp and even the camp I attended at her age, she chose to go to cooking camp.
This was a surprise. Elise is obsessed with horses. Secretly, we're very pleased. Any of the other choices would have forced her to exercise. But she gets plenty of that through regular activities. Eating healthy, though, is a different challenge.
She's bombarded with unhealthy food messagesfrom brightly-colored cereal boxes to fast food restaurants that associate rewards with bad food. And her friends seem to subsist on potato chips, hot dogs and powdered donuts alone.
As parents, we compete against these trends constantly because we know poor eating habits can cause obesity in children, which can lead to all sorts of health problems: Asthma, diabetes, sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease, among others.
I'm also worried that lessons learned now will make it more difficult to combat chronic illness later on. If, for example, my daughter develops type 2 diabetes in her 20s, as I did, will she be able to manage it with diet and exercise? Could she avoid the disease altogether if she learns to love bell peppers and grilled peaches as much as she loves Happy Meals?
On her first day of cooking camp, which is at a local wellness facility and focuses on preparing healthy foods, Elise made yogurt parfaits with Greek yogurt, granola and blueberries. Her group also grilled vegetables and made quesadillas. Later we discussed what made each healthy while we cooked salmon and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes from our garden.
As parents, we have some influence of our children's eating habits. But that relationship is complicated. Telling our children to clean their plates , for example, can have unintended consequences. And our influence appears to wane as our children age.
In our case, we're filling our daughter's menu, so to speak, with lots of healthy opportunities. In addition to cooking camp, she gardens, she helps me in the kitchen and she picks out fruits and vegetables at the grocery store that we cook.
I may not be able to overwhelm the messages she gets from food manufacturers and friends, but at least I can be part of the conversation.