First person: Fuel for performance and train for life

Physical activity is such an important component to the health and wellness of children.  In 2013, the Austin Police Activities League launched a free soccer league for children in Dove Springs. Games were held at the Dove Springs Recreation Center in 78744, and entire families attended games to support the community’s newest physical activity program that was the brainchild of Austin Police Department (APD) Officer Paula Aguilar. This was a great effort to get kids in Dove Springs to get moving and increase their physical activity.  You can read more about it here.

And then there’s nutrition.  More from Susan Dell on this topic below:

The National Institute of Health recently found that parental fruit and vegetable intake may be the strongest predictor of fruit and vegetable consumption among young children.  Sadly, studies also show that only 27 percent of Americans eat three or four vegetables a day.  Children today so often consume junk food such as chips, sodas and candy instead of “real foods” like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.  Without those real foods kids aren’t getting the nutrients they need to fuel their bodies and minds, but they are consuming unwanted calories, sugars, sodium and fats.

Susan Dell is the co-founder and board chair of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and a mother of four.  Her experiences as an athlete, mother and champion for good health have taught her the importance of being well and modeling healthy habits for our children.

Susan’s story

My personal philosophy has always been “fuel for performance & train for life,”  so I’ve tried to teach my four kids about fueling their bodies with healthy foods that will give them the nutrients they need so their minds and bodies perform at their best.

I’ve told them that eating foods like lean meats, fresh fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy items and whole grains as fuel will help them whether they’re taking a test, running a race or just playing with friends. But as any parent can attest, telling our children things can only do so much good. I’ve had to show my kids how to choose the right fuel for their bodies.

One way I’ve tried to do this is to really include my children in meals. When kids are involved in planning and preparing meals, they are more likely to eat what is on the table.  I always have a bowl of clean, fresh fruit on the kitchen counter—full of different options to choose from for breakfast and snacks. I allow my kids to choose which green vegetable is served at dinner.  And I involve the kids in cooking. The more involved your kids are, the more they will want to eat the healthy meals they helped create.

When kids are involved in planning and preparing meals, they are more likely to eat what is on the table.

Eating a rainbow, modeling good habits

I also keep plates and bowls of healthy snack options in our refrigerator.  We always have “ready to eat” sliced fruits, grilled, steamed or raw veggies, healthy tuna salad or chicken salad, or healthy dips like hummus or spinach dip.  If you have healthy foods in the refrigerator, the kids will get excited about going there to get a fresh snack instead of something out of a bag or box.

When my kids were younger, they enjoyed doing things like “eating a rainbow” by eating different colored foods that only occur in nature. They’d have contests to see who could eat the most colors.  They learned to enjoy “real foods” that were healthy and full of nutrients instead of foods with a lot of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Most important, I fuel my body with the same healthy foods that I expect my kids to eat. I’m physically active and train for life. Modeling healthy habits is first—and most critical—thing I can do to help my kids understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle.  Helping my kids fuel for performance and train for life means teaching them that the right combination of healthy food and regular physical activity can help them perform their best and live longer, healthier lives.

Susan’s tips

  • Involve your kids in every meal.  Allow them to choose at least one of the dishes served.
  • Don’t buy chips, candy and junk food. If you don’t buy it and have it in your home, your kids won’t have access to it there!
  • Encourage your kids to learn to cook. Kids love to eat the meal they help create.
  • Make sure you have healthy snacks on hand and ready to eat. If good food is easily available, kids will grab it on the run!

Susan is the narrator of A Year of Being Well: Messages From Families on Living Healthier Lives. To read more about some inspiring families who’ve adopted healthy habits to combat childhood obesity in their own homes, visit, and order or download your free copies of A Year of Being Well.