In this age of health awareness many adults acknowledge the importance of reclaiming their health, starting with nutrition. But eating habits don’t happen overnight – they are brought forth from our childhood so we need to make sure our children are getting healthier too.
If you have decided to eat better, please extend this policy to the rest of your family. If you choose a nice healthy salad for yourself topped with your favourite veggies and favourite protein, please don’t feed your kids unhealthy ‘kid friendly’ foods. Healthy eating habits should start in youth, and will help prevent short-term problems like decreased immunity, weight gain, lethargy, irritability, allergies, sleep issues, bloating and gas, … as well as long-term health problems like obesity, diabetes, chronic gut issues, low body image and self-esteem, mental wellness issues and decreased immunity.
Health Canada recommends the following to keep our children healthy:
- Cut way down on their sugar intake. The average child consumes over 10 teaspoons of sugar a day and up to 20% of calories consumed are from sugar. Sugar kills immunity and right now we all need strong immune systems.
- Varied protein source. Protein doesn’t have to be from just chicken, beef, pork and seafood (fish should be offered weekly). There is also plenty of protein in beans, peas, eggs, dairy, lentils, nuts, seeds (sunflower, hemp hearts, chia seeds…) and combining grain (rice) with lentils or beans offers a complete protein.
- Daily fresh veggies and fruits ensure that our kids have a high nutrient and immunity boosting diet.
- Offer only healthy grains like brown rice, millet, barley, wild rice, bulgur, farro, whole oats and other whole grains. Try to avoid white flour (pizza crust & baking) as it is a major contributor to disease and is full of empty calories.
- Rather than letting kids fend for themselves and graze all day, create family time and eat together. If kids are hungry, they will most likely eat what you put out.
- Make sure kids have adequate Omega 3 for brain function at school (found in fish and seafood, seeds (like chia and flax), nuts (walnuts), avocados, olive oil. Most school age kids are severely lacking in Omega 3. Supplement if needed.
- Kids should not eat more than 1500mg (½ tsp) of salt daily. Too much sodium puts children at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and even kidney disease, not to mention feeding an addiction. Be vigilant about checking labels and avoid adding salt where possible. Using herbs and spices is an easy way to stay below the sodium recommended.
- Limit nitrates (smoked meats) and processed foods such as pre-made, packaged, and frozen prepared meals as they are often full of chemicals, food dyes, preservatives, sodium, added fats, and added sugars. Children who eat a lot of nitrates and processed foods develop food addiction and eating habits that lead to obesity and poor long-term health. They also eat less fruits and vegetables. Shopping the perimeter of the store, planning your meals, learning to cook a few healthy dishes and making enough for left-overs can prevent the need for processed food in your home.
- Drink mainly water, as water is the only thing our body wants and is vital for children’s development. A major source of sugar in our children’s diet is from soft drinks and sugary juices or other sweetened beverages. Sugar sweetened beverages have been blamed for many of the health problems plaguing children today, including childhood obesity.
- Play hard to sleep well. When kids spend their day playing outside, rather than in front of a screen, they sleep better, they have less behavior problems, they are happier and even have better self image. Active kids are happier and healthier kids.
These suggestions for keeping our kids healthy may seem obvious but if they are neglected, health issues follow – always. It is easy to fall off the wagon and resort to eating unhealthy comfort foods that feed our addictions. Eating well is a lifelong commitment but the benefit is a longer healthier life for us and our families.
To the health of you and your families.
Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of www.elixirforlife.ca