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healthy kids food

Do you think that the habits we instill in our kids during their formative years as babies and children will affect their health later on in life?

Well the simple answer is they will and they do which is why we have got to take action and get our kids healthy.

Having just spent the time in Germany at a nutrition conference I am now more passionate than ever about getting our kids to eat better. I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with David Sandoval who is one of the world’s leading wholefood nutritionist’s. His philosophy is very simple: “kids don’t do what you tell them to do, they imitate what you do”

If your kids see you eating take out and processed packaged foods all the time and drinking fizzy drinks they will think nothing of doing it themselves. Fast food joints like McDonalds should not be a treat even for birthday parties. Let me put it this way: if every parent decided that once a year for their own kid’s birthday McDonalds is allowed, but every week your kid has a different birthday party to attend which means that, now your kid will be having McDonalds every week! So really your decision as a parent now affects so many other children too. We need to take responsibility for all of our kid’s health and there are so many other ways to celebrate keeping it healthy!

I know we are all sick of hearing that obesity is on the rise but the reality is that if we don’t do something we are setting our kids up for a lifetime of disease and struggles. A poor diet has been shown to contribute to a lowered immune system, poor energy levels, concentration and behavior problems in school and at home and a wide variety of illnesses like diabetes, digestive issues, mental and emotional problems.

You might not think mood is related to our lifestyle but they are intrinsically linked. We have a chronic problem with mental health in Ireland and instead of medicating why can’t we look at nutrition first?

David shared a couple of key recommendations with me that will help parents ensure the entire family eats better. With babies its important to train their taste buds and brains early on by giving them a wide variety of foods and remember a baby might need to taste and be offered a food up to 8 times before they will accept it so persistence and patience is key.

Let them know early on that their opinion matters and that they have choices but limit their choices to an approved food list. I have a rainbow food chart that I bought from www.lizcookcharts.co.uk on the wall in the kitchen.

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This activity chart has been designed as a fun way to help children (and adults) to eat the recommended five portions of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables every day. Each family member gets a set of re-useable animal stickers so they can see their healthy fruit and vegetable food intake, aiming to get one sticker on each of the five rainbow colour food groups every day. Because I’m so passionate about greens I take it one step further and ask for 3-4 stickers a day on the greens alone and then there is a reward of the playground or a trip to smyth’s or the movies at the end of the month. This works with James and taking it one step further again it encourages him to choose different coloured fruits and veggies in the supermarket.

Variety and colour stimulate the mind. There is a great website called Food and Spirit and I had the pleasure of hearing Dr Deanna Minich speak recently at the NTOI (nutritional therapists of Ireland’s) conference. She maintains that “The doorway to our health and well-being is before us, rooted at the dining room table, at the restaurant, at the grocery store, at the farmers market, and in the garden. And, within the eating experiences are planted the TRUE ROOT OF WHAT NEEDS HEALING at our innermost core.”

So with all this is mind the final step is how we present food to our kids. It needs to be kid friendly so again colour and kid friendly sizes are key. David recommends cutting oranges across and not down so that kids taste the sweetness not the bitterness first, bananas and apples should be cut into slices. Purple and red grapes and great and full of nutrients but David said never green grapes as they have far too much sugar. Freeze the red grapes for treats (never give these unsupervised to small children as they can be a choking hazard) and if your children eat a lot of treats and processed foods start retraining their taste buds one substitution at a time. For example if they were eating gummy bears now switch to raisins, cranberries and dried fruits.

I always encourage James to eat his water and in my opinion this relates to everyone, as most people are not sufficiently hydrated each day leading to many health problems including overeating as very often thirst is mistaken for hunger. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables like watermelon, oranges, tomatoes, cucumber, celery and berries are all great.

The most important thing is to create desire. A great and very simple way to achieve this is by using a simple psychological trick. When you are eating say things like yum yum this is delicious and it will encourage your kids to imitate you.

Adding a little salt and butter to veggies (not for weaning babies) is also a great way to help make them taste better and butter is actually a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. In fact, the vitamin A that is contained in butter is best absorbed in this form than any other. But not all butter and salt is created equal so sea salt or pink himalayan salt is best and real butter not processed spreads.

The most important thing is to have fun with food and if you keep offering delicious healthy food they will accept it eventually. Get them involved in the process and let them help with preparation. Kids love nothing more than feeling important and remember that health and vitality is possible for every family just take it one step at a time.

My son James is ice pop obsessed, even in winter. Every shop we go into he stands by the freezer with a long face then he looks up and flutters his long eyelashes pleading with me for “just one mum”. Like a broken record I explain to my four year old about ice pops having too much sugar but of course he doesn’t care because he’s four and I sound like a demented lunatic in the shop trying to reason with a child who simply does not care about the health benefits or lack of in the ice pop he so dearly wants.

 

I know the rules or indeed the advice about not using food as a reward system or using sweets for treats as it may lead to emotional eating problems in later years but I live in the real world and we have to deal with so much on a daily basis that sometimes ice pops and the odd sour squirm have indeed been used to preserve my sanity at times.

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It’s for this reason that I’m really excited about Claudi & Fin! But who and what are Claudi & Fin I hear you say. Well they are none other than the ice pops to end my ice pop nightmare. Let me explain: There are a few things I am extremely passionate about in life. One is supporting other mums in business and another is trying to get our kids to eat healthier and this week London based mums or “Mumpreneurs” Lucy Woodhouse and Meriel Kehoe are answering at least one of my prayers by launching one of the UK’s healthiest lolly brands called Claudi & Fin into Ireland.

 

Like most parents nowadays Lucy and Meriel became frustrated at the lack of healthy snacks available for kids so Lucy said they decided to see if they could come up with something themselves so they hit the shops, stocked up on tonnes of healthy ingredients, whipped out the blender, and the rest is history.

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The frozen lollies are named after their daughters and chief taste testers, Claudia and Fin – both 3 ½. They are made from Greek style yoghurt and jam-packed with fruit. The lollies are made with absolutely no artificial ingredients and come bursting with added Vitamin D. With obesity rising at an alarming rate its good to know these lollies are also low in sugar and calories

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All the ingredients were chosen very carefully for example the creamy Greek style yoghurt has two benefits; the first is that it tastes amazing and the second is that it has almost twice the protein of ‘normal’ yoghurt and lower levels of naturally occurring sugars. It’s also a good source of calcium, potassium, zinc and vitamins B6 and 12.

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They use full fat milk because not only does it taste better but when you strip out the fat, you also strip out the vitamins; A, D, E and K. Add to that a growing body of recent evidence that shows us a clear link between reduced-fat products and weight gain in children. There’s also lots of real fruit puree in the lollies as they provide essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.

 

If you ever been to one of my shows or heard me being interviewed it’s unlikely you’ve escaped my vitamin D obsession. James asks for his every day now and believe it or not an astonishing 70% of children aged between 1-4 in Ireland are deficient in this vital nutrient, leading to serious issues like rickets and bone deformities. It’s really difficult to get the quantities of Vitamin D we need from a normal, healthy diet (just 10% comes from food) and as we reduce our exposure to sunlight for other health reasons, things don’t seem likely to change.  The government now recommends we give kids aged between 6 months and five years Vitamin D supplements. So if you are choosing a treat at least these treats have 30% of your child’s recommended daily intake of Vitamin D added to them.

 

I imagine my little man will become dazed and confused when we are in Supervalu next week and he asks for an ice pop and I get more excited than him and maybe I’ll even have one myself!

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The lollies are available in Supervalu and Centra and come in two delicious flavours – Mango and Strawberry, both priced at €3.50

I’m A HUGE fan of finding what works for you and how and what we feed our kids is no different. The one thing we simply can’t escape is that good nutrition is important.

If you have been reading any nutrition articles lately I imagine your head is spinning at the fact that we have been lied to for years about fats and cholesterol. We have been warned off all fatty foods and as a result have made some companies who make low fat products very wealthy. Fats were feared and butter and cheese were demonised.

However no matter what studies come out and what we are told the fact remains that our Western diet is unbalanced. Sugar is now the enemy. I realised this a few years ago during my fight with depression.

As soon as I cut down on sugar and processed foods my mood lifted. Of course, general lifestyle and exercise habits play an important role too, but eating unhealthy foods can cause inflammation, which leads to illness. There are now studies showing links between inflammation and depression.

One is by George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles. He told The Guardian newspaper that depression has as much to do with the body as the mind. ‘I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,’ he says. ‘It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.’

A family of proteins called cytokines sets off inflammation in the body, and switches the brain into sickness mode. Both cytokines and inflammation have been shown to increase when people become depressed and fall when they’re better.

Omega 3 fats worked for me in my recovery from depression. I notice a dramatic difference in my mood when I don’t take them. Omega 3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They are essential fatty acids that the body cannot make for itself. There are two EFAs (essential fatty acids) Omega 3 and Omega 6. Omega 6 fatty
acids have been growing in prevalence in modern diets. Some research suggests that too many Omega 6 fats can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. They are in margarines, cakes, some fast foods, dressings, nuts… the list goes on. Many studies are now showing us that we need more Omega 3s instead.

Foods that provide Omega 3s include flax seeds, walnuts and green vegetables. However, our bodies need to convert Omega 3s into the active form that the body can use called EPA or DHA. The body is not very efficient at doing this. It is estimated only 5 per cent of flax oil is converted to EPA and DHA. Shellfish and oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies already have EPA and DHA in its required form but how many of us eat oily fish three times a week or feed it to our children?

Scientists are still working to reveal how Omega 3s work during brain development, learning and cognition. Dr Alex Richardson has been researching this area for years. She is the author of They Are What You Feed Them, in which she talks about the effect a lack of Omegas has on children’s behaviourand development.

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I give James Eskimo-3 (visit eskimo3.ie for stockists) kids everyday as it combines the unique stable fish oil, Eskimo-3, with Omega 6, Omega 9, vitamin D and vitamin E. I used to add it to yogurts, porridge, smoothies and even spread it on toast to get it into him but now he is used to the taste and takes a tablespoon every morning. A lack of EPA and DHA affects all parts of our body including our bones, blood, organs, skin, hair and mental health. They might be only one piece of the jigsaw but they are a very important piece.