We all want our kids to grow up happy and healthy. We give them tons of love and attention and try to make happy memories for them to reflect on later in life. We take them on fabulous vacations, buy them the latest new electronics, or the tennis shoes all the other kids have, and clothing from the “it” store of the moment. All to make them “happy.”
Are you putting the same amount of energy into what they eat? Are you helping them to create the healthy habits they need for optimal health later in life that will also be passed down to future generations? What you feed your kids and the eating habits they form now will impact their own children’s genes. We have all heard “You are what you eat,” well your future kids and grandkids are also what you eat. What you feed your children will set them up for either a wonderful happy healthy life or one that results in chronic illness and health concerns later. With the increases in childhood obesity and diabetes, as well as behavior related issues, we need to really look at what we are putting into our children’s bodies.
That meal you just picked up at the drive-thru may have saved you some time but at what cost for your child? The same is true with that box of macaroni and cheese or that frozen kid dinner. If these are the eating patterns for your family on a consistent basis you need to take the initiative now to change.
Everywhere we turn we are being exposed to advertising for fast food, processed foods, and unhealthy restaurants. Our kids are easy swayed by these bright ads with cartoon characters and of course these same foods are right at children’s eye level in grocery stores. Now your little one is begging you for that sugary cereal loaded with artificial colorings and preservatives she saw a commercial for while watching Nick Jr. You are faced with a choice, give in, (the label does claim to be a source of whole grains, that can’t be all bad, right?) or say no and wait for the tantrum. I am a mom, I have been there. I have given in and have been swayed by the false claims of items being “all natural” “a good source of vitamins and minerals” and countless of other empty claims we find on product labels. Convincing myself I was giving my daughter something kind of healthy.
So what is a parent to do?
First is to make changing how you feed your family a priority and you lead by example. The do as I say, not as I do approach will not work. Neither will going in like a drill sergeant and throwing out all the food in your house and declaring that from this day forward nobody in your house will ever eat sugar again. This will not work and you will fail. In my own home this was a slow process and had to be based on how my daughter deals with change. Your child may not resist change as much as mine and you can remove most of the chemically laden food from their diet all at once, if so go for it. I made her a partner in what was happening. We started small and worked up to a diet with a high percentage of whole foods. Ideally you would stop buying all refined processed foods, but if your family’s diet is made up of a large percentage of processed packaged foods you will probably need to ease into the transition as we did. Our first step was getting rid of that blue box of macaroni and cheese that is pretty much in every family’s pantry. (I will go into more detail of food additives and what they are doing to our children’s generation in another post, but bottom line, get that out of your house ASAP) With my daughter as a partner we bought the Annie’s brand in the organic food aisle. It is still a processed food and ideally you will be removing most of that from your house but this was a decent first step for her. As my daughter became more product label savvy she made the decision on her own to remove macaroni and cheese from a box from her diet. I gave her the power and she eventually came to the proper conclusion.
Find your first steps that will work for your family. My recommendation is to first find alternatives to any brightly colored processed foods. If the color is listed on the product label as a number and not a natural food source stop buying it. There are many good organic alternatives out there if they just have to eat those cheese puffs. You can also try making cheesy kale chips, my picky daughter loves them. Another first step I recommend is to stop buying soda. If you or your child is drinking just one can of soda a day that is an additional 39lbs of sugar you are adding to your diets in a year. Your child may not even weigh 39lbs! Remember, you are what you eat. Drinking diet soda is not a better option. It has chemicals far worse for you than sugar. Get rid of all soda. Water is obviously the best option. If they want it a little sweeter add some fruit, if they like carbonation use sparkling water. Which brings me to fruit juices, sports drinks and flavored water. Read the labels and look at the sugar content per serving. These are not healthier alternatives to soda. My daughter asked me to buy her a Vitamin Water. Judging by the marketing on the outside it seemed like a good to choice in her mind, then we looked at the label together. It had more grams of sugar than a soda. Come up with alternatives together. You can make your own lemonade with fresh lemon juice, water, and honey. Avoid using refined white sugar. I use coconut crystals, turbinado sugar (washed raw sugar), honey, or pure maple syrup as a sweetener in place of white sugar in our house.
Small changes like these, and having the conversation with you child on why it is important to make some changes, will get you on the way to bigger changes down the road. Being mindful of what you are buying is key. If you kids love hot dogs and just won’t give them up, switch to organic turkey dogs without nitrates or fillers, if they have to have cereal in the morning look at options in the organic aisle. I recommend Envirokids made by Natures Path. They have replacements to the usual cereals kids ask for. Natures Path also makes an alternative to PopTarts.
These recommendations are for processed foods to processed food exchanges. The goal is to start eliminating as much processed food as you possibly can from everyone in your home’s diet. Making a lifestyle change is what will accomplish this. Are you a take-out kind of family? Then set a goal of cooking 3 nights a week then increase it from there. Get the kids involved with meal prep, make it fun, and they will more likely eat what they cook. Make smoothies for everyone for breakfast. Throw frozen fruit, coconut water, a plant based vanilla protein powder, maybe some spinach or kale, some plain Greek yogurt and a little orange juice in a blender. Breakfast can be done for the whole family in just minutes. Have cut up fruit, cheese, and veggies on hand for quick snacks. Stop buying potato chips and pop real popcorn in a pan and put real melted butter on top. Kids love the experience and you are avoiding the chemicals found in microwave popcorn. Get everyone out of the habit of mindless eating and into the habit of mindful eating. Mindless eating is sitting in front of the TV with a bag of chips not realizing how much you are eating or eating out of boredom. Another thing to address is eating when upset, this will lead to other problems with food down the line. Mindful eating is eating when you are hungry, sitting at a table with a portion poured in a bowl or on a plate, it is having dinner as a family, being thankful for the food in front of you, and taking your time to eat and enjoy your food.
We have a “try a new food each week” policy at our house. Some are hits and some are misses but the key word is try. Get creative and put vegetables in old favorites. Add broccoli or cauliflower to mashed potatoes, throw some spinach in your pasta, you get the idea. The key is getting your kids involved in the process, make it fun. When I work with families I have games for the kids. These games are there to expose them to new foods, to open their awareness to life beyond pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese.
As always I am here to help. If you need assistance getting your family on the road to health or just need a tour of the grocery store to teach you how to read labels and make better choices please contact me.