A Daily 40-Minute Junk Food Vaccine

A simple, inexpensive way to inoculate kids against a constant flood of junk food.

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Are your children worth 40 minutes a day? Because I think in just that time slot you can effectively immunize them against the relentless flood of junk food that regularly threatens their health. And unlike traditional vaccines, this daily 40-minute vaccine has many additional side benefits. It may reduce their future risk-taking behaviors, improve their grades, lower their chances of depression, decrease their likelihoods of developing chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and elevated cholesterol, and amazingly, it might even immunize your future grandchildren as well.

Being the father of three wonderful little girls, I know that I wouldn't hesitate to trade my life for theirs, and I'm guessing that sentiment is shared by the majority of parents the world over. Yet there is a huge swath of parents who, despite being willing to give up their lives for their children, aren't willing to carve out time every day to maximize their children's health.

Maybe it's because they feel they simply aren't able. After all, in the age of overstuffed schedules, 40-minute blocks of time may be tough to come by. Well good news! The daily 40-minute junk food vaccine can be broken down into smaller chunks: two blocks of 10 minutes, one of 20. Even better, you can bank time for future use, meaning that if you happen to have a few spare hours on the weekend you can spend those hours on some of your family's daily 40s.

So is this vaccine expensive? Is that why so many folks seem to be avoiding its purchase? Nope. That's not it either.

Ok, so it's not expensive, the time involved can be broken up into truly manageable segments, and it can even be banked if a parent were able to find some spare time here and there. What's more, it'll confer tremendous health benefits to your children and maybe even your grandchildren. Sounds like a no-brainer.

What is it?

It's cooking. Actual in-your-kitchen, from-whole-ingredients, probably-even-adding-spices, cooking.

Ten minutes for breakfast. Ten minutes to pack lunch. Twenty minutes to prep dinner. Forty minutes total.

And it doesn't need to be gourmet and oftentimes you can get by with far fewer than 40 daily minutes.

Breakfast might be whole-grain toast along with 100 percent peanut butter and some yogurt or cheese. Eggs take minutes to make—seconds if you use a microwave. Steel-cut oats can be made in big batches and frozen in muffin pans. And remember, too, there's no rule that deems eggs, toast, and oatmeal as the only foods kids can eat for breakfast. Leftover dinners, sandwiches—really anything is fair game.

Packing a lunch? How long does a sandwich take to put together along with some fruit? The Internet's full of recipes for homemade, healthier, granola-style bars, and again, leftovers are your family's friends.

Dinner? Either head out and grab a quick-and-easy cookbook, or once again, tour the pretty much limitless resources available to you online. And when you do cook, make sure you double, triple, or quadruple the recipe, as it won't double, triple, or quadruple the time involved—and it'll provide you with leftovers that can either be used for that week's lunches, or frozen for nights when time's truly tight.

Next, up those meals' antes by eating them as a family around a table as often as possible. Involve your family in meal preparation and cooking so that, suddenly, you're not only providing your children with healthier fare, you're providing your children with the healthy living blueprint on which to base their own future parenting. Finally, make eating out with children in restaurants or ordering takeout truly rare celebratory experiences.

Forty minutes a day. I know my kids are worth it and I'm pretty sure your kids are too. Befriend your kitchen and ditch the junk.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and is also easily reachable on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press in April 2013.