Ready to let the kids lead the way on vacation?
First lady Michelle Obama suggests that's one way to get everyone more active on vacation this summer. The first lady told Taking the Kids exclusively, "The key to getting kids moving is to find something they enjoy, and join in!" For the first family, that includes biking.
Every traveling parent, including the first parents, of course, knows that if the kids are happy on vacation, everyone will be happy. But these days, with concerns about childhood obesity and fitness, none of us wants our kids to spend vacation sitting around eating fries, playing video games or texting, even if that's what makes them happy.
Us either. In fact, American travelers ranked getting healthier as their top goal this year, according to research from the new Portrait of American Travelers from MMGY Global/Harrison Group.
At the same time, kids surveyed by the U.S. Travel Association said that what they like most on vacation is doing things with their families that they can't do at home, things they'll talk about all year. Why not make some of those activities ones that get you all moving, suggests the first lady. "I'd encourage families to pick activities -- no matter where you're visiting -- that involve getting active, whether it's walking, biking or anything else you find fun," she said.
Mrs. Obama has made combating childhood obesity and encouraging families, including her own, to eat healthier and get more active one of her signature White House initiatives by way of her Let's Move! (www.letsmove.gov) campaign.
The fact that her daughters, Sasha and Malia, weren't eating enough vegetables was the impetus for the famous White House garden -- the largest ever planted at the president's residence. The garden has even encouraged families around the country to plant their own. Last summer, Mrs. Obama told Taking the Kids that one way to encourage kids to eat healthier on vacation is to visit farmer's markets. "Get them involved in buying the food your family eats ... at a farmer's market you can let them pick out any three vegetables they want, and then plan dinner around those," she said.
This year, as Memorial Day approaches, signaling the start of the summer family travel season, I was glad that the first lady took the time out of her busy schedule to respond again to questions from Taking the Kids about how we can all vacation healthier. I'm sure you'll find that she has some pretty useful tips.
Q. How can families be more active on vacation this summer, whether they're touring a city like Washington, D.C., or heading to the beach?
A: One of my favorite activities in the summer is biking. Barack and I love to bike with the girls when we can, and it's a great way to explore a new place. And many cities now have affordable ways of renting bikes for a few hours or a few days. Going on a long walk is also a great way to explore a new city or new neighborhoods. You can also choose a vacation spot that will get you active without even thinking about it, like visiting one of our nation's many beautiful national parks.
Q. How can you encourage kids to move on vacation, if they'd rather play video games or text?
A. We are our kids' first and best role models, so if we're getting active and enjoying it, they will too. Also, set limits on screen time during vacation. If they aren't moving, they should be reading.
Q. We know the Junior Ranger program that engages and enables kids to get a kids-eye-view of the national parks has incorporated some Let's Move! activities in the national parks. Why should families include a national park in their vacation plans?
A. Our national parks are so beautiful and offer an amazing diversity of experiences. And Junior Rangers makes it extra fun for kids to visit national parks, which are already such a great places for families to get active and spend time together. From hiking to biking to swimming and canoeing, our country's national parks offer a wide variety of family-friendly activities.
And if you're a military family, you can also get free passes to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.
(The Let's Move Outside Junior Ranger program encourages kids and their families to engage in outdoor activity that will get hearts pumping and bodies moving during a visit to national parks. Kids who complete at least one physical activity in pursuit of their Junior Ranger badge receive a sticker that designates them as a Let's Move Outside Junior Ranger.)
Q. Do you have a favorite national park your family has visited?
A. We are blessed to live in a country that has so many unique national parks and each one has so much to offer. We have gorgeous, awe-inspiring parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, which I actually went to for the very first time as first lady. It was amazing.
But the thing I love to remind people is you don't have to go far to find a national park. There are national parks all around the country -- some maybe even in your own backyard -- that are there for families to enjoy year-round.
Q. We all think vacation is a time to kick back, relax and indulge, especially when it comes to food. How can we do that and still eat healthier on vacation?
A. It's OK to indulge. I do it myself. The key is balance. I've always told my girls that if you're eating healthy 90 percent of the time, then you don't have to worry about watching what you eat on special occasions. I would also say that vacations are a great time to try something that you haven't before and expand your kids' food horizons. Maybe a local dish with ingredients from the town you're staying in, such as locally grown fruits or vegetables, or the "catch of the day."
As for me, I'll have some homemade ice cream for dessert -- after that bike ride.
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.