Healthy eating can stabilize children’s energy levels, sharpen their minds and regulate their moods. While peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting kids to eat well seem impossible, there are steps parents can take to instill healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone. By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you can make a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
Developing healthy eating habits
Children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most, so the challenge is to make healthy choices appealing. You can do that by disguising the taste of healthy foods—adding vegetables to a beef stew, for example, or mashing carrots up with mashed potato, or adding a sweet dip to slices of apple. Of course, no matter how good your intentions, it’s always going to be difficult to convince your eight-year-old that an apple is as sweet a treat as a cookie.
The childhood impulse to imitate is strong, so it’s important you act as a role model for your kids. It’s no good asking your child to eat fruit and vegetables while you gorge on potato chips and soda.
Top tips to promote healthy childhood eating
- Focus on overall diet rather than specific foods. To promote a lifelong healthy relationship with food, kids should be eating whole, minimally processed, nutritious food—food that is as close to its natural form as possible.
- Have regular family meals. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting and enhances appetite. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal.
- Cook more meals at home. Eating home-cooked meals is healthier for the whole family. It sets a great example for kids about the importance of food and can bring a family together—even moody teenagers love to eat tasty, home-cooked meals! Restaurant and take-out meals tend to have a lot more unhealthy fat, sugar, and salt so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your kids’ health. And if you make large batches, cooking just once or twice can be enough to feed your family for the whole week.
- Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults to shop for groceries, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It’s also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
- Make a variety of healthy snacks available instead of empty calorie snacks. Keep plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grain snacks, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for healthy snacks instead of empty calorie snacks like soda, chips, or cookies.
- Limit portion sizes. Don’t insist your child cleans the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.
Start your child’s day off right
Many different studies show that kids who enjoy breakfast every day have better memory, more stable moods and energy, score higher on tests and miss fewer days from school. They are also less likely to experience problems with their weight.
- Eating a breakfast high in quality protein—from enriched cereal, yoghurt, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, or fish—can help overweight teenagers eat fewer calories throughout the rest of the day and lose weight.
- The ideal breakfast features plenty of “good” carbs (fruit, whole grain toast or cereal, for example) as well as high-quality protein.
- Breakfast on a weekday needn’t be time consuming. Boil some eggs at the beginning of the week and offer them to your kids each morning along with a low-sugar, high-protein cereal and whole milk, and an apple to go.
- An egg sandwich, a pot of Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese, or peanut butter on wholegrain toast can be eaten in the car on the way to school.
- You can make breakfast burritos filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, chicken, or beef on a Sunday and freeze them for your kids to eat during the week.
GMOS and pesticides: Keeping your kids safe
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are mainly engineered to make food crops resistant to toxic herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate). While the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” there is still some controversy over the level of health risks posed by the use of pesticides and eating genetically-engineered food.
Since children’s brains and nervous systems are still developing, they are more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults. Their immature liver and kidneys are also less effective at removing any pesticides they’ve ingested. Eating organic produce has been shown to reduce pesticide levels in kids, but of course, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventionally grown produce. So how can you keep your kids safe, especially if you’re on a budget?
- Feed your kids plenty of fruits and vegetables, whether they’re organic or conventionally grown—the benefits far outweigh any potential risks.
- When possible, go organic for fruits and vegetables that you don’t peel before eating, such as berries, lettuce, tomatoes, or apples and choose cheaper, conventional produce for thick-skinned fruit and veggies such as oranges, bananas, avocados, or pineapples.
- Explore local farmers’ markets for less expensive organic produce.
- It’s important to wash all fruits and vegetables, but try scrubbing conventionally grown produce vigorously with a brush under running water. No amount of washing will remove pesticides taken up by the roots and stem, but you can at least remove any pesticide residue.
- When buying meat, choose organic, grass-fed whenever possible. Pesticides in animal feed tend to accumulate in the fatty tissue of the animal so trim the fat from non-organic meat before cooking. Or choose cheaper cuts of organic meat instead of prime cuts from industrially raised animals.
You’ve heard it before – we are what we eat. It is indeed true. We also become more of what we eat. So healthy choices will definitely produce healthy results. We all owe it to our bodies to make better choices, so we can function better. If you can raise your children in this knowledge, you are well on your way to bringing up healthy adults who will not have to suffer the consequences of an unhealthy childhood. In tune with the Durbell philosophy of “Prevention is better than cure”, we are willing to help you with any advice or guidance that you may need to ensure a better future for the whole family.
There are so many new vitamins and essential wellness products on the market, it would definitely be in your best interest to consult any of our pharmacists or nutritionists with particular questions or needs you may have. Why wait, when you can start making a much-needed difference today? Make 2016 your turnaround year. You’ll be so happy you did! Forevermore…