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“We thought that this would create a great foundation for our son, Patrick, and really help us as adults, too,” Malufau said.
The 12-week series of classes is provided by the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Cooperative Extension Service in Las Cruces. The program teaches kids about nutrition, exercise and self-esteem by involving the whole family. This year, the Fit Families program received a $21,500 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative.
Families learn about nutrition and mindful eating.
The grant supports the program in Las Cruces. It also helped NMSU translate the classes into Spanish and bring the program for the first time to Anthony. Anthony is a small city on the New Mexico-Texas border. The community has a large Spanish-speaking population.
Any families with a child between the ages of 5 and 12 can join the no-cost program. Health care providers or other groups, such as the Doña Ana County Head Start program, can also refer families to the classes. Classes are taught by a team of educators. This team includes the Fit Families program coordinator, community health workers, and dietetic and public health student interns.
The classes’ whole-family approach to health and wellness worked well for Malufau’s family. They learned how to add more vegetables and fruits to their meals. They also found new ways to work out as a family. Malufau said she was able to lose weight.
Her family has been more active since taking the classes. “I like the physical activity part,” Patrick said.
The classes involve fun games and activities that get participants’ hearts pumping. Each week, kids dance, play tag or take part in friendly contests with their parents. While the activities differ, they’re always hands-on exercises that the whole family can do together.
Self-esteem is a vital part of whole-child health. The Fit Families program gives parents and kids the tools to help build a good self-image.
In one class, parents learned about mindful parenting and how they can support their child’s self-esteem through praise for “being.” That means parents positively acknowledge their child for who they are.
While parents received one lesson, the kids worked on “Me and Mine” books. They wrote about their likes. And they reflected on the foods and activities they share with their families.
Each week, families set goals for their eating habits and physical activity. Examples of goals include filling half a plate with vegetables and fruits for dinner or taking a family walk at least three times during the week.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, more than 1 in 4 kindergartners and 1 in 3 third-graders in New Mexico was overweight or obese last year. This puts kids at greater risk for life-long health issues.
“We know that diabetes, heart disease and chronic illness are big problems affecting our older community, but are also becoming more prevalent in our younger citizens,” said Lucinda Banegas-Carreon, Fit Families program manager and certified health education specialist. “Teaching children about health can hopefully prevent certain illnesses as they grow.”
By involving the whole family, the Fit Families program helps parents learn how to support healthy actions and helps kids get excited about trying new foods and activities at home.
“It’s really made a deep impact in our family,” Malufau said of Fit Families. “I know that it’s really helped me to be a better mother and a role model for Patrick in order to keep him in a lifestyle of health and fitness.”
For Laura Roper and her daughter Sapphira, a favorite take-away from Fit Families has been learning how to make easy, healthy meals.
Each class starts in the kitchen. Kids and parents learn a new recipe and work together to chop, stir and cook healthy foods. When the food is ready, families enjoy the meal together and spend time talking. They practice mindful eating and learn about portion control. They learn about nutrition and the value of eating more fruits and vegetables.
In one class, parents and children learned how to make a healthy spaghetti sauce using asparagus, mushrooms and squash. Teaching kids about healthy cooking can help make healthy habits that last a lifetime.
“I think it’s really fun because the kids can cook,” Sapphira said. “They can learn how to cook for the first time in their life so they can be better cooks when they’re older.”
Many parents struggle with finding the time to cook healthy meals at home. That’s something that Laura has felt firsthand. The quick meals she learned at Fit Families have helped Laura and her family eat at home more often instead of eating out, where food tends to be higher in calories, fat and salt.
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