Generation Rx — it’s what we’re starting to call kids born in the year 2000 or later. Why? The staggering statistics on obesity, autism, ADHD and allergies.

What’s to blame?

While several factors play a role in these rising rates, Chef Ann Cooper wants parents to know how much food impacts our children’s health. “We really are making our kids sick with what we feed them,” she says. “When I started looking into the food system and understanding how broken it was, I started worrying about kids.”

Her research led her to start the Food Family Farming Foundation (now Chef Ann Foundation) in 2009, to help schools ensure kids have access to healthy, fresh food. The Foundation offers a parent advocacy toolkit that can help parents understand what’s going on in their school cafeterias and how to speak up on behalf of their kids.

Defining food’s role

More importantly, healthy eating habits have to be instilled at home. “If we want to change our children’s relationship to food, we have to make them part of the process. Parents need to cook, garden and shop with their kids,” urges Cooper. “And one of the most crucial actions they can take is to sit down at the table and eat with their kids. Food shouldn’t be portable.”

“If the majority of our diets are plant-based and cooked, you don’t have to worry about brand names.”

Cooper emphasizes the importance of cooking our meals. “We have to find our kitchens again,” she continues, as doing so not only helps us segue away from processed foods but also keeps costs down.

In your shopping cart

If you’re overwhelmed by the options in the grocery store, think basic. “If the majority of our diets are plant-based and cooked, you don’t have to worry about brand names. Apples don’t come with brand names,” she says. “We need to cook with intact whole grains, whole fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins.”

Even the busiest of parents can still provide healthy options for their families. “There are all kinds of services that offer pre-washed, pre-cut, recipe-driven meals,” she reminds us. “And, in most areas, grocery stores will do all the shopping for you and even deliver it.”

Staying healthy is about the types of foods we consume but it’s also about willpower. “At the end of the day, it’s still calories in and calories out,” sums Cooper. “If you’re more sedentary in the winter — which you don’t need to be — eat less.” Make smart choices and be a champion of your and your family’s health.