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.

colour chart

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.

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