After celebrating Father’s Day, I realized how lucky I am to have my father in my life. About 15 years ago when I was a freshman in college, my day had a heart attack. He had to undergo a quadruple bypass surgery and wasn’t given very good odds of survival. He is now 67 and doing well.
However, this made me want to know everything about my heath and how to protect my heart. So I made a doctor’s appointment and did different testing. I wanted to be prepared. And now when I visit the doctor, I have to check the box, “heart disease in family.” However, it wasn’t until many years later that I thought about my kids having to check that box, too.
Checking Cholesterol Levels
Kids might not commiserate over their cholesterol levels on the playground like coworkers chatting about weight at a water cooler. Still, now that my children are older I realized that I needed to be aware of how their cholesterol today may affect them much later.
During Cohen’s 10-year wellness visit, the doctor wanted to check his cholesterol. Not because he is overweight but because I checked the box “heart disease in family.” The doctor told me that cholesterol levels in children are linked to three factors: heredity, diet, and obesity.
After his finger prick, Cohen’s levels came back slightly elevated and concerning. He has borderline high cholesterol. Luckily, he didn’t have to do the full test of fasting and blood draw but he will need to be tested every year. This made me think that adults are not the only people affected by high cholesterol.
The doctor handed me a pamphlet, and I took to the internet to see how I could help lower his cholesterol. Activity and healthy foods, that’s what I kept reading on what to do. He is pretty active with soccer, and we also make exercise a part of our family’s everyday routine. We make fitness time into together time. However, one thing I knew we could all probably do better at is eating. Like I said, he isn’t overweight, and we don’t have a family history of obesity, but we needed to change some habits to help lead heart healthy lives.
Changing Eating Habits
Here is what we decided to do. I myself try to lead a healthy lifestyle, but now I make sure to read the nutrition labels and check for cholesterol, as well as saturated and trans fat intake. We try to avoid foods that are high in saturated fats. That means doing things like choosing low-fat dairy products, steering clear of solid fats and choosing a variety of protein.
I decided to pack healthy lunches for school and summer camps and have him forego the junk food in the school cafeteria and choose healthier items instead. He now helps with meal planning. We make it a game or explore new recipes and foods as a family.
I know there’s a lot of pressure on parents to try to overhaul everything in their diet and perhaps set some pretty high standards for a family meal—standards that might be difficult to reach day after day. I think it’s important to set little goals and understand that getting fast food every once in a while is okay.
Embracing a Healthy Lifestyle
We have embraced lifestyle changes for the entire family. Now for dinner, we make one meal for the whole family. Planning meals in advance is a key strategy that helps my family get healthful meals on the table consistently. With busy schedules and everyone on the go, we eat in shifts, but if dinner is already made everyone can at least eat the same thing.
Lastly, and this was the hardest one for my kids, healthy snacks. We encouraged a gradual change that’s attainable. I set snack times instead of having them graze all day. Once snack time is over, the pantry is closed. Most meals and snacks include water. My kids rarely drink pop or juice.
I’m hoping by doing these heart healthy changes most of the time and continuing to get cholesterol checks, my kids will be far less likely to become a heart disease statistic down the road.
Babies & Toddlers
In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!