Feed Kids Right

by Justyna | March 10th, 2015 — Wellbeing

Late last year I was invited to give educational talks about Nutrition and Healthy Eating at the St Michael's Primary School in Melbourne. It amazed me how eager the children were to learn about their growing bodies and the impact of food on their health. These keen little students, not only grasped with ease complex nutritional concepts, but they were also very interested to know what effects can chemicals in processed foods have on their bodies. After one of the lessons, a 9 year old girl came up to show me her usual snack bar and inquire about it's nutritional value. This savvy customer wasn't at all pleased with some of the listed ingredients in her snack and made a declaration of choosing more wisely next time. Amazing I thought! Education really is key.

This year, my 5 year old started school and as we adjust to the new routine, I can't help but notice the frustration many parents feel over their child's lunchbox contents and eating habits in general.

Rightly so, because the fast, easy, packaged, convenience approach may be ok on occasion, however, there's no secret, taking regular shortcuts in the way we feed our kids can compromise their optimal growth, development and future health. Nutritional status has direct effects on your child's immune system, mental health and behaviour. The most prevalent health problems affecting Australian children include obesity, emotional and behavioural issues and learning difficulties. Dietary factors and sub-optimum nutrition play a major role. Additionally, children are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides, flavour enhancers and numerous chemicals commonly used in farming and food processing. Conventional farming routinely uses over 400 chemical pesticides! No additional convincing necessary about opting for organics.

Kids have rapidly developing brains that need a steady supply of nutrients and quality fats. Studies show that people low in essential fats perform poorly on tests and mental intelligence tasks, show poor memory and experience learning difficulties.

Your child's meal should do more than just provide energy. Food is the source of cellular nourishment providing the body with the building blocks necessary for countless chemical reactions and all bodily processes. Don't forget, even when your child is asleep, their little bodies are growing and building new tissue. Busy little ones, indeed.

High energy-density foods like fast foods, lollies, biscuits, packaged snacks and sugary drinks are not only poor nutritionally but they tend to fill kids up quickly and push the more nutritious food choices off the menu.

So lets look at ways you can maximise your child's potential, intellectual performance and help them stay physically and mentally healthy by making more educated food choices at the grocery store.

Get fat smart! Essential fatty acids found in foods like fish and seafood, eggs, butter, animal products (preferably organic to limit exposure to chemical residues), legumes, full fat milk, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, coconut oil and sea vegetables, are not only nourishing for the brain, but they also enhance the immune function, improving your child's protection against microbes and infectious organisms. Healthy hormonal development also depends on adequate levels of those fats. Fats to avoid like the plague, however, are the highly processed vegetable oils. Hydrogenated and chemically altered, these fats are highly inflammatory and carcinogenic. Margarines, and vegetable cooking oils are prime examples.

Hydrate! Your child is likely to put play before adequate hydration so it may feel like you are constantly running after them with a glass of fluid, however, helping your child develop a habit of drinking water through the day, even before they feel the sensation of thirst, is a wise investment in their health. Studies show that most of us are running around chronically dehydrated and its ruining our health. Chronic dehydration has been linked to most common diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue and obesity. Most commercial fruit juices and soft drinks contain too much concentrated sugar and preservatives. Pure water is your best option, but you can add some fresh juice to the water, to make it more appealing to your child at first, while slowly weaning them off. Freshly squeezed fruit/vegetable juices, however, are a great addition to your child's diet, packed with nutrients. A juicer for your home is a great investment that will benefit the whole family. For school lunch boxes, a frozen water bottle will also work well to keep the contents cool and fresh.

Less processed more plant! Your child needs a wholesome diet, abundant in fresh, living, nutrient-dense foods. Including fresh plant foods, like fruits and vegetables will make sure that your child is getting the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients that every cell in their body relies on, for its healthy functioning. Choose organic, locally grown and seasonal. Aim to include as many bright colours as possible on your child's plate. As a general rule, the more brightly pigmented the plant, the better it's nutrient profile.

Cookies and snack bars are best home-baked. Search for healthy recipes and involve your child in the kitchen. Every time you cook something healthy as a family, you are establishing a healthy food culture at home ensuring that your child learns the skill of eating for their health. Children love to cook, and are fascinated by the preparation of food. Use that natural curiosity to help them build a healthy relationship with food, one that is filled with culinary adventure and experimentation.

Be sugar-savvy. As with most foods, it is not the food itself, in its natural form, that is either good or bad, but rather what we then do to that food, and how we process it, that makes all the difference. White sugar, high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup and artificial sweeteners are the hidden baddies in most processed foods. These are highly refined, bleached or altered, poor nutritionally, inflammatory, addictive and giving your child (and you) mood swings from hell. But don't despair. Not all that is sweet, is bad for you. Whole, natural sweeteners in their unprocessed form (e.g. unprocessed cane sugar, rapadura sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, rice syrup, raw or manuka honey) still have all their nutrients intact. Rich in vitamins and minerals, are not as detrimental to our health as their processed cousins. So feel free to bake your cookie and eat it too!

When planning your child's meals and school lunches don't forget to include quality protein. Best sources include animal products such as meat, fish, full-cream milk, cheese, and eggs and plant sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and sea vegetables. Kids need protein to thrive, build muscles, nerves, organs, formulate antibodies, stay alert and produce hormones. There really isn't much that goes on inside a human body that does not require some form of specialised protein. Proteins are the building blocks of life so ensure a steady supply in your child's diet.

Psychology of food. On average, a child is exposed to 11 TV commercials per day, advertising food of low nutritional value and high levels of processing. Clever marketing gurus know, that if they get your child hooked on their product early, they have a customer for life. Children are a very lucrative demographic. Popular cartoon characters, competitions, promotions and toys advertising junk food, bright and exciting. Food is big business. As parents our role is to educate our children about food. Teach them the meaning of labels, advertising claims and arm them with knowledge that will make them less vulnerable to pressure from media and marketers.

However, it is equally important to teach your child a healthy attitude towards food. Seeing food as a source of nourishment beyond the physical level, delicious and joyful source of life that it is. Food choices should never be about deprivation or fear. Your child will pick up on your attitudes towards food and imitate your beliefs, so it is important that you have a healthy relationship with food. Don't label any particular food as GOOD or BAD, be balanced and flexible. Relax at birthday parties and celebrations, there is time and place to educate your child about healthy eating and there is a time to just enjoy the moment. Be the best example that you can be, and trust that the efforts you make at home, will empower your child to make smart choices in time.