The Low Down on Good Food for Our Kids
There is so much STUFF out there about food and kids…
Everyone is freaking out about childhood obesity—with good reason too I might add—the numbers are terrifying; up to 25% of Australian kids are overweight or obese and this number is growing each year. 50% of obese teenagers will become obese adults.
It is a worry that our kids are getting too fat and suffering ailments like high cholesterol and atherosclerosis even before they hit high school.
There is so much finger pointing and guilt inducing messages aimed at parents—like we really need more of that!
Fat kids get hell at school from their peers and from condescending adults—so they just feel like complete crap and then eat more.
So how about we start looking for solutions, so parents can start taking action? How about we help parents make small, but powerful changes to the way our families shop and eat?
What are some key things that we, as parents can do that are practical and realistic, don’t cost the earth, and don’t turn us into boring zealots.
So I booked myself some time with nutritionist extraordinaire, Tabitha McIntosh.
My question to Tabitha was, “What are some simple, straightforward steps that parents can take that means their kids eat well?” Then I added, “And the kids have to actually enjoy eating it. And it has to be stuff the whole family will eat. And it has to be affordable”. So even with these demanding criteria, she still agreed to speak to me.
Here are Tabitha’s key tips for healthy families:
1. Keep kids active: Walking to school, spending time outdoors, running around in the backyard or the park—basically just moving. The more active kids are, the less they need sugary food and drinks to increase their energy levels.
Now here’s the hard part; no more than one hour of screen time (that includes TV, computer, video games and handheld games) each day for kids under five and no more than two hours a day for kids over five.
That’s going to challenge us all!
2. Make food real for kids: Tell kids what specific foods actually do for their body. Explain that drinking milk builds strong bones, eating carrots makes their eyes work better (yes, this old wives’ tale is actually based in fact!), eating greens and fruit carries out the garbage (ie. poo), protein builds muscles, eggs and chicken help them to grow strong, drinking water helps to keep their brain working.
This helps kids connect the benefits of eating good foods with their own body and starts to make it personal.
3. Try introducing ‘swaps’ into your daily routine
Swap frozen, or takeaway pre-prepared, processed dinners for fresh seasonal meals that you throw together yourself. Even if this is just a quick stir-fry or an omelette that you add a few frozen peas and corn to.
On that note, the good news is that eggs are great, I now have hard boiled eggs in the fridge that my kids eat when they come home from school, or give them an egg for breakfast. About 6 per week is enough for kids.
Some easy swaps:
- Swap boxed cereals for non-packaged breakfast stuff. We all know that normal store-bought cereals have loads of sugar in them, but store-bought muesli is just as bad. Use plain rolled oats to make porridge, and add some yogurt and fruit; wholemeal toast with nut butter; fruit with yogurt; boiled egg; baked beans; raw muesli. It’s important for kids to have some protein in the morning to help their concentration at school.
- Swap fizzy drinks, juice and flavoured milk for normal milk or water or a piece of fruit. My healthy eating trick is to “forget” to buy fizzy drink when I am doing the shopping. Amazingly, the world does not end and my kids have got very good, with minimal whingeing, at drinking water.
- Swap big portions of pasta and rice for high fibre veges, like peas, broccoli, carrots, green beans, sweet potato, corn, spinach (even frozen vegetables are good)
- Swap white rice and white bread for wholegrain breads, wholemeal wheat or spelt pastas and brown rice.
4. Have healthy snacks on hands that kids will actually eat
These healthy snack ideas are great for hungry kids, especially when they come home from school:
- 100-200g low-sugar and low-fat yoghurt
- wholemeal crackers dipped in hummus (we make our own hummus which is amazing)
- wholemeal crackers with avocado
- tasty cheese with an apple, pear or mandarin
- a hard boiled egg
5. General rules for healthy meals
- Olive oil is free from saturated fats and tastes great. Extra virgin olive oil is great for dressings and low-temperature cooking, but for high-heat cooking like stir-frying, use canola or sunflower oil.
- Try steaming or stir frying when cooking fish, meat and vegetables
- Include some protein in your main meal every night. This could be fish, ricotta, eggs, baked beans (look for low-sugar and low-salt versions) or lean meat. Try and follow the basic rule of one-third protein and two-thirds plant food such as green veges, potatoes or brown rice.
Special note: Iron
Kids need iron. In fact, from 7 months to 5 years, a child has a higher daily iron requirement than a 17 year-old boy!
Vegetarians need to work harder to achieve adequate levels of iron, but it is possible. Dried pulses and legumes are a fantastic source of iron, but they don’t provide the iron and calcium levels required for a growing child. In this case, Tabitha suggests that you seek advice on what supplements should be used.
Kids need at least three iron-rich meals a week. Good sources include red meat, bolognaise, omelette with spinach, mussels (those strange looking shellfish that are very popular from where I grew up), baked beans, dark chicken meat such as chicken thighs.
6. Don’t bribe kids with lollies or use them as rewards:
All this does is glorify them. Sure the odd treat is not going to be a problem, but the less refined sugar the kids eat the better. There are a whole lot better ways to reward and motivate them; praise and recognition for a good job; let them do a game or activity they really enjoy or offer extra family time as a reward.
So I hope this helps a bit. Making a few small changes can make a huge difference, to both the health of your family and the impact on your wallet.
For further information, Tabitha’s website is www.awakenyourhealth.com.au