So I think all parents know the key points of good nutrition for children: Make them eat their veggies, avoid sugary drinks and snacks and get a little protein into each meal.
The problem with children and nutrition, though, is that oftentimes those foods that are being marketed toward children (and you know the ones-they have those cute little graphics and popular television characters on the packages) are really not so great for our kids, even if they state that they are.
Canadian researchers from the University of Calgary studied 360 products that were targeting children through cute packaging that included some of the more popular cartoon and television/movie show characters. A whopping ninety percent of these foods failed to meet established nutritional standards while sixty-two percent of these same products were boasting to be nutritious!
So, we know that fifty-percent of the calories chlidren ingest come from fat or sugar (yes! fifty percent!) and we also know that these packages are being marketed to attract the attention of our children even though they are not nutritionally good for them. What do we need to do as parents to ensure our children eat well and stay fit?
Start young. If you give your children a good start in nutrition when they are young (and I mean as babies!), they are more apt to eat well as they grow. With our children, we fed them fresh veggies from the time they could chew. Our youngest loves to eat green beans as snacks, while the four year old is a fruit queen. Yes, I know there is sugar in fruit, but in my mind I’d rather have her eating buckets of fruit than a handful of chips. We have recently planted a garden and the pride both girls take in the garden, and in picking and eating the food grown, is even beyond what we had expected!
Be firm. We’ve told our girls that chips are for adults, as is soda, and we don’t let them have either. Since my husband and I avoid soda it isn’t hard to keep this away from them; however, at a local fair I saw one child, no older than four, drinking a can of soda. The packaged juices aren’t much better if they aren’t one hundred percent juice. The added sugar in these (in the form of corn syrup) really turns a good thing into a bad thing quite quickly.
Don’t completely keep them from treats. A treat here and there isn’t always bad. Catching the ice cream truck can make wonderful memories for the family, and who can resist ice cream and sweets from time to time? When you make it a special treat it has a lot more value than when you open the fridge and freezer and tell your child to go to town on a regular basis.
Skip the fast food. I heard that french fries are a two year olds favorite food! Argh, do you know how much oil and fat is involved in making a french fry (regardless of how good they taste!) Resist this, as the damage it can do to your tiny child’s body is not worth it.
Eat fresh. Making dinner each night is tough, but if you plan you can do it. Make enough chicken and meat (fresh, not packaged!) on the weekend. BBQ it, steam it, put it in the slow cooker. Use it throughout the week for dinner. For instance, we will barbecue chicken and steak on Sunday and eat it as is. Then on Monday I might make fajitas or burritos; on Tuesday, pasta with chicken and sundried tomatoes; on Wednesday, Chinese steak and veggies. I also cook large batches of vegetables on the weekend, steaming up fresh items such as green beans, carrots, broccoli, and then use this throughout the week by just heating it up and putting it on the table.
Make exercise a point. Get out and ride a bike, kayak, take a run. I ran a race with my oldest daughter recently and she won’t stop talking about it! She wants to know when we will run again and if she can do the marathon with me (soon, and no!) She asks, as she looks at her food, “Will this makes me run fast?” We have made exercise a huge part of our life, and we have taught our kids (and are teaching our kids) that it is important to be active, to get out and play, to run and bike.
Be smart. Read labels. Stay away from things that are packaged as much as possible (this means mac and cheese, chicken nuggets). Instead, fix fresh foods. Avoid high fructose corn syrup, fried foods. Remember that our children have smaller bodies than we have so the foods that they eat are really important at this time. A pack of french fries for you might not be a big deal; for them, the calories, fat and artery-clogging ingredients can cause a load of problems, not just now but in the future as well.