"I wonder who invented eating?"
Jewel Midelis asked her friend, Morgan Roberts, as they stood together in front of the open refrigerator at the Roberts house. "I mean who first thought of food as something that tastes good to eat?"
It was a lazy summer Saturday morning, and the teens were looking for something suitable for breakfast.
"I don't know, but I love that person," replied Morgan. "They should get an award!"
The two settled on leftover birthday cake as their breakfast of choice.
When my friend Helen Roberts told me this story, several hours later, we were running down the road, struggling against the late morning sun, talking about food. I have to admit, talking about favorite foods is one of my favorite activities, next to eating it.
Both of us are mothers of teen and pre-teen girls, so we were also discussing something much deeper: the importance of instilling healthy eating and fitness habits in our children, without making them paranoid about food and fat.
Morgan and Jewel, it should be mentioned, are tennis junkies, playing tennis tournaments throughout the state many weekends. They logged most of their waking hours last summer on the tennis courts, either as part of a tennis clinic or rallying together on their own.
The 15-year-old girls have a healthy attitude about eating, and although they might eat birthday cake for breakfast after a sleepover party, they also understand that the food they eat needs to fuel their bodies-for tennis and for life.
"I don't understand," I told Helen, as we were running along. "How can I ask my daughter, 'Do these pants make me look fat?' in one breath and then in the next breath tell her it's what's inside that matters?"
The same racing metabolism that prevented my daughter from sitting down fully in her seat until just recently, will probably keep her thin through her adolescent years. Besides, her favorite foods are cooked carrots, green beans and Gatorade.
Unfortunately, my son would eat nothing but pepperoni pizza breakfast, lunch and dinner given the opportunity and so I worry about the day he goes off to college.
These are children who grew up in the same house, sprang from the same parents' loins and studied the same food pyramid in health class. How can I help these very different children get through adolescence and the teenage years, feeling good about their bodies, without being paranoid about what they are eating?
I hate being the food police, guardian of the desserts and snack foods, but I want my children to know the consequences of the food they are putting in their mouths. Keeping healthy alternatives in the cupboard is important, but I don't want my children begging neighbors for full-fat ice cream-the real stuff, please.
The answer, I believe, is exercise, which is good both for the mind and for the body. With the percentage of children who are overweight more than doubling since I was a child, I know the battle isn't mine alone.
Kids are sitting on their butts too much. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child watches about three hours of television a day. Add in computer games and PlayStation and the average kid spends five and a half hours on all media combined, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Parents need to make sure their children are getting enough exercise. So, how much is enough?
According to the dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, all children 2 years and older should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. New dietary guidelines also suggest that kids eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains than in the past.
It's time to sign up your kids for soccer, baseball or swim team. If their school offers extracurricular athletics, suggest they try out for cross-country, volleyball or bowling. Get them to mow the lawn or clean your windows for exercise.
Most importantly, practice what you preach. Eat healthy foods in front of your children and take the dogs for a long walk after dinner.
Then, after they go to bed, get the Haagen-Dazs ice cream out.
Sue-Ellen Sanders writes about family issues every week in the Hometown News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.