- On August 13, WW (formerly Weight Watchers) launched Kurbo, a program aimed at kids ages 8 to 17.
- The Kurbo program uses a stoplight system to rate the health content of food. Green light foods can be eaten at any time, yellow foods should be moderated, and red-light foods should be limited.
- The app costs $69 for one month, $189 for three months, or $294 for six months.
- At its launch, controversy erupted over whether young children should be on this type of plan. WW says it wants to curb childhood obesity; others cite the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics that show a link between obesity-prevention efforts and eating disorders.
Earlier this week, WW launched a new healthy eating program called Kurbo aimed at kids ages 8 to 17, and the backlash has already begun. Which is understandable — anything that signals “stop” when it comes to food can easily be taken out of context or misused without the right tools to consider when or why they’re eating which foods, and how they want to feel most of the time.
That said, I think there are two key points getting lost here: The first is that the tool itself is meant to support (not replace) the role of parents and caregivers in making healthier food choices. Second, it's critical to remember that — thanks to our smartphones — we’re bombarded with so-called health information and pseudo-scientific “advice” on what to eat 24/7 (and kids are certainly no exception).
For tweens and teens, feeling like there are no accessible and trustworthy resources to help guide them to making better, more nutritious food choices can be extremely isolating, alienating, and frustrating — and if you're a parent with a complex food history, I can understand wanting to feel empowered to do better for yourself and your family.
But I think the controversy itself sheds light on an important issue: Many of us feel utterly betrayed by the phrase “healthy eating.” If you have no idea which foods will actually make you feel energized and satisfied, then it’s pretty tough to grocery shop for yourself, much less your family, right? In a world where “diet” advice is extolled by everyone, everywhere, we all need more (free!) evidence-based nutritional information. Ultimately, anything you can do to cultivate a better, more holistic relationship with food is the right choice for you and your family.
That said, here are some strategies that will help you make healthier choices for your kids, with or without the Kurbo app.
Remember that what’s on the table is up to you.
First things first: When it comes to encouraging healthier eating habits for your family, the single most important thing to remember is that parents are in charge of what’s on the menu; kids determine how much they want to eat. That’s why encouraging kids to eat more veggies and fruits is a simple and nutritious place to start. If you’re adding more of these foods to every meal and snack, you’re cultivating a positive connection between food and health.
One thing I recommend parents keep in mind is that restrictive language can beget restrictive behavior. The following words and phrases are all examples of ways some of us speak about food that can be damaging for kids and adults alike, but especially triggering for adolescents:
- Cut out
- Don't eat
- Eat less
- Portion control
Think about taking a hard look at the way you speak about food with your family, and how you make it clear that better health requires a mindset of inclusivity vs. exclusivity.
Making family meals and planning activities that emphasize food enjoyment is what matters most. For example, take a walk through the farmer’s market and select a new, seasonal veggie to make for dinner, then cook it together at home. Making a meal more fun for both you and your kids is crucial when you’re introducing something new, no matter how old you are!
Prioritize “whole” vs. “clean,” “fresh,” or “healthy.”
I’d encourage parents, kids, or anyone looking to make more nutritious choices to reassess pre-made meals and snacks (and all of their myriad label claims) by considering wholesomeness above all else. Ask, “Is this close to the natural state of how this food was meant to be eaten?” For example, think oranges vs. orange juice; roasted potatoes vs. fried potato chips; peanuts vs. peanut butter ice cream; chocolate vs. chocolate milk; blueberries vs. blueberry jam, and so on. The more you think about your choices through this framework, the more likely you are to make the food choices that are right for you, and promote better eating habits for your family.
No matter how old you are, hydration is the key to better health. But it shouldn't feel like a chore! Flavor H2O with lemons, limes, or any citrus fruit; freeze fruit to use as ice cubes; use up produce leftovers for smoothies, soups, or sauces. Plus, high water volume foods are almost always more nutrient-dense, like unsweetened dairy products (Greek yogurt, milk) or produce (especially melons, carrots, zucchini, and tomatoes). Being properly hydrated can help you stay healthier overall, while feeling more satisfied and energized.
Get rid of the guilt.
Kids absorb parents’ habits, so if there’s one thing to “cut out” entirely, it’s the guilt, fear, and shame associated with eating meals, snacks, or treats that are more indulgent — especially since no single food (or snack or meal), in isolation from everything else, can make or break your health. Nor can it directly impact your weight (that goes for both you and your kids). And while the red/yellow/green “traffic light” approach has taken some heat, it’s worth thinking through how you can adopt that framework to consider what foods help you feel good and energized vs. cranky and energy-zapped — and why that matters so you can do more of the other things you truly love to do! (Though it's important to note, the traffic light language — e.g., “stop and think!”— is for parents and teachers, not kids.)
For example: It may be tougher to do homework after drinking a milkshake (when blood sugar starts coming down). But it’s fun to go out with your family for a milkshake after a homemade meal, when your whole family can connect and enjoy the experience together (and you’re closer to bedtime). That’s one simple choice to make that both brings everyone together around the table, cultivates enjoyment and nourishment (of all types!), and can even build in a little activity (if you’re heading somewhere walkable). Ultimately, “good for you” and “bad for you” has no place in the vocabulary of kids, nor does it have a place in your own — so cut out the judgment and consider what makes you feel good and why.
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