Caroline Shugart column mug

Caroline Shugart column mug

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As I help steady my 9-month old grandson’s hand, guiding his little spoon to his mouth, I am utterly filled with joy. As a new grandparent, I never knew life could be this good! I love that he’s eating (or tasting) everything I offer him — oatmeal with peanut butter and bananas, peach chunks, whole wheat tortilla pieces, lentil soup, vegetarian refried beans, tomato slices from our garden, cooked carrots ... his eyes light up with each new flavor.

I don’t feed him all of this at one sitting, of course, but some combo at each of three family meals. He is so excited at mealtime!

As a grandmother, I care about my grandson and want him to live a long and healthy life. As a nurse and dietitian, his health and well-being are a top priority for me. I don’t want his life to be one burdened with sickness and disease, pain and sadness. I want him to have a happy, active life full of opportunity, and I hope to have him join me on my future adventures.

I see myself as a grandparent who provides and promotes healthy foods and active play dates. I’ll try to reinforce that eating junk food and drinking sugary drinks (soda and juice) can hurt our health and limit our potential, and that eating from the garden is fun, tasty and healthy.

I’m extremely thankful that my daughter has been able to nurse him thus far. It has taken a tremendous amount of effort, time, lack of sleep, perseverance, and commitment to breast-feed this little guy, and for that (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics) I have a grandson with increased protection against infections, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

That’s a pretty great start for a happy, long life. (I also know that breast-feeding isn’t always possible, and I’m thankful we live in a world where there are high-quality formula options so every infant can get the nutrients he or she needs for a healthy start.)

Feeding your child (or grandchild) shouldn’t be difficult. Current guidelines encourage the introduction of solid foods at about six months (in no specific order) and by the age of seven or eight months offering a mixture of foods from the basic food groups (vegetables, fruit, grains, low-fat dairy and quality proteins). For infants and toddlers, we should avoid highly processed foods with high amounts of sugar, fats and oils, and salt. And we should provide appropriate portions. It’s not OK to offer young children adult-size portions, and they shouldn’t have to clean their plates if they aren’t hungry.

According to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, infants and toddlers up to the age of two should not spend any time in front of screens, because it takes away from interactive playtime. My daughter and her husband try to abide by this recommendation. Instead of watching television or playing with my phone, I want us to hike, and bike, and swim together. My goal is to provide my young grandson with an abundance of opportunities for active movement.

When he was itty bitty, my hubby and I carried him on daily walks to the park. When he was sad, I held him while dancing to uplifting rock and roll music. I played gentle ping pong with him in the front-pack and let him hold the extra ball. I introduced him to yoga, but that was a wee bit challenging because he kept migrating from his little mat to mine. And on his recent visit to Utah, we practiced “fetch the toy” (like one does with a puppy) and stair-crawling, over and over, building up his speed, skill and confidence.

He’s only nine months old, but he seems to really enjoy being outside. So off we go for a bike ride. … I just love his little electric green bike helmet and his exuberant smile! He’s so darn cute.

While walking on a neighborhood canal trail with him in my front-carry pack, I spotted a plum tree. I felt like a mother bird as I picked one and provided little pieces to my enthusiastic grandson. Earlier, I had laughed as watermelon juice drenched his face, neck, and bare belly in my backyard. It is so fun to experience the world through the eyes of a child, and I love that I can work with his parents to prepare him for his next 100 years!

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. Her new grandson gives her even more reason to live a long and healthy life.

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