BY Eileen Z. Fuentes

The New York Times reported recently that despite the efforts made by the Bloomberg Administration, Childhood obesity rates in New York City have not decreased. As a matter of fact, 22% of New York City children are overweight as compared to the rest of nation, which is around 19.6%. An even more disturbing fact is that Washington Heights came in third place, with a whopping 47% of its school children being classified as overweight or obese.

Now that back-to-school season is in full gear, I’ve put together 5 tips to kick-off this busy month. As you will see, I believe the obesity epidemic is only partially to blame on the food that we actually eat and more about small lifestyle improvements we can incorporate into our lives. Let’s unite as a community and show them that we care about ourselves as well as our children:

1. Be a hoarder – that’s right hoard! Cooking/preparing fresh produce takes very little time. If rice and beans are your thing, buy a rice cooker and make enough to last you 3 days. Making healthy improvements works best when implemented slowly. First start out with white rice and mix it with brown until your family adjusts to the consistency. White rice has been stripped of its nutrients so switching to brown rice is a great idea. Don’t know how to cook brown rice? Its easy…just double the amount of water for every cup of rice. You can also make beans in bulk and freeze them to use throughout the week or longer. Instead of take-out Chinese, add frozen vegetables, eggs, sprouts and Tamari (naturally brewed soy sauce), to your leftover rice and you have yourself a meal. Mince your meat, add it to your vegetables but make sure it’s not the main attraction on your plate. Make lots of it and the next day, mix with whole-wheat pasta and voilà, you’ve just created another dish.

2. Go on a fast – Yes, a fast…from the news. Who wants to start and end their day depressed? We have enough of our own problems. So why take on someone else’s? September marks one-year that I gave up the morning/evening news. Believe me, if it’s important enough, you’ll hear about it (although I’m still waiting for Hurricane Earl which I found out about via a mass notification effort courtesy of my work e-mail). If you’re reading this, then you have a computer and therefore have access to the traffic and weather. Go to and start your day with inspiration instead of desperation. Let it go now and while you’re at it, go on a fast food fast. Fast food = fast death!

3. Make mealtime fun – M is for “Meatless Monday” and F is “Family Friday”. I keep a radio in the kitchen and there is a hardly a moment that I am not dancing and cooking simultaneously. Your energy is powerful and goes into the food you prepare so do it with love and enjoy yourself, those who eat it will thank you. Whether you have a family or not, Fridays can be set-aside for potluck dinners at a friend’s place. Everyone brings a dish and shares in the clean-up efforts. There is nothing more gratifying then good food with good friends. And last but definitely not least, include your kids in the cooking process. They will likely try it and be sure to thank them (no matter how bad it is). Click here if you need sample menus to get started.

4. Add YOU to the to-do list – Kids do as you do, not as you say. So it’s imperative that you learn to take care of yourself. The Washington Heights/Inwood area is full of beautiful parks. Did you know that there is fitness available to you for FREE? If you don’t believe me, click here. The Fort Tryon Trust also puts together a comprehensive walking/jogging map and has a family-friendly calendar of events. There is so much you could do in this neighborhood without spending a dime!

5. Listen to your kids – I have three daughters and I know this is not always easy when you’re busy. Don’t let your lack of time be replaced by a television set or videogames. You have been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen 50% more than you talk (or nag). Ask them daily “What’s new and good?” Not only will you save yourself a complain-fest, you will also condition them to look at the positive before the negative. Just like you, they are exhausted and just want someone to listen. Happy kids make healthy kids.

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