Adequate nutrition for children consists of meals and snacks that include a variety of fresh, whole organic foods. Whole foods are vegetables, fruits, unrefined grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed animal foods. Healthy foods provide for:
- strong immune systems and elimination of common health complaints
- high energy, physical stamina, and balanced weight
- good concentration and learning
- self-discipline and a calm attitude
The easiest way to make healthy food available for your kids is to plan ahead. Involving your kids in planning and cooking meals will increase their interest in food and establish life-long healthy eating habits.
Most of the common health problems for kids (headaches, earaches, respiratory issues, eczema and rashes, constipation/diarrhea, tooth decay, muscle-aching and tenderness, depression, anxiety, and fatigue) can be alleviated by adjusting the variety of fresh, organic, whole foods and pure water available. Chronic health problems that are on the rise for children such as diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and behavioral disorders can also be addressed with healthier food and lifestyle choices.
Eating whole organic foods will also help your kids with learning and concentration. Teachers report that kids with healthy eating habits have more energy, fewer health complaints, increased attendance, are alert and enthusiastic about learning, less moody and calmer. Such students drink plenty of pure water and eat a variety of fresh whole food choices free of additives and grease products.
A variety of fresh and whole foods provide nutrition for the body’s cells and also fiber and fats that encourage elimination of residues and metabolic waste. Kids’ behaviors improve as whole food vitamins and minerals help their brains process energy from glucose and proteins, make essential brain chemicals, assist nerves that conduct information, help in the storage of recent memory events, and improve the absorption of iron needed by the brain.
Fiber is important in maintaining health, including weight management, regulation of blood fats (lipids), and maintenance of normal bowel movements. Kids can get adequate amounts of fiber by eating whole foods. Sometimes a teaspoon of ground seeds (like chia, flax, etc.) added to a daily smoothie is also beneficial. Fiber can help an overeating child to cut down on caloric intake and chew more, promoting a sense of fullness. Fiber is also helpful in lowering elevated blood cholesterol levels.
The nutrient content of a whole food is typically higher than a processed food. For example, a basic raw apple is a grouping of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Once the apple is processed into apple sauce or another processed “apple treat” at least one half of the Vitamin C is lost simply due to the removal of the skin, and the other components are reduced or altered.
Many parents and kids are mis-informed about what grocery items are whole foods. For example, the “wheat berries” found in the bulk aisle are the whole version of wheat. Whole wheat flour or a cereal made from whole wheat flour, albeit better than refined white flour, are not whole foods. A grain is whole and unrefined if the entire kernel is unaltered. A whole grain contains three parts: the endosperm (containing starch and protein), the germ (rich in unsaturated fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, and minerals), and the bran (high in fiber and minerals and B vitamins).
The best whole grains to eat are in the form of steamed brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, etc. These grains are very cheap and easy to steam, or bake. Another healthy alternative for whole grain bread is to eat sprouted bread. It is better because the grains have not been milled and dried. If you prefer to eat flour products, the most nutritious way to do so is to purchase the whole grain (wheat berries, spelt, millet, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and mill it yourself, or use a high-powered dry blade blender, and use it for baking immediately. Once the flour sits around for days or more, it loses nutritional value.
Most of our food supply is processed, and things like artificial colorings and flavorings, preservatives and conditioners are added to the foods. Buy the foods that are as close to nature as possible. Natural foods have a life force that nourishes our own. The more steps in processing that are put into a food product, the more its life force is altered and nutrition is lost. As a result the processed food product is not as good for your body or your mind.
Most chemical and food additives are derived from coal-tar petroleum or commercial grade corn, to which some kids are allergic. It is important to recognize that a food or food additive may cause a reaction for your kids. The majority of negative food reactions are cerebral or “in the brain,” meaning they result in drowsiness, moodiness, poor concentration or fatigue. Other typical reactions include: headaches, hives, nasal congestion, edema, gastrointestinal reactions, lethargy, eczema, headaches, excess motor activity, disorientation, faintness, and insomnia. The best way to prevent or resolve a reaction is to avoid the food and find a healthier option.
Preliminary research demonstrates that organic foods are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. This is especially true for minerals because organically-farmed soil is typically better cared for and higher in minerals. Research indicates higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins among organic berries, pears, peaches, and corn. Much more research is needed. We might also expect that people eating more organic foods have less chemical residues in their bodies and this is supported by studies. For the smaller bodies of kids, it may be especially important to protect them from excess chemical residues in food.
Although it is easy to access many fruits and vegetables from around the world, flavor and quality are often sacrificed. In order to accommodate the transportation of food to a far off destination, it is often picked prior to maturity or ripeness. It is said that proper flavor never develops in food picked prior to maturity, so this is a major impetus for selecting local foods as much as you can: Because they taste better! Fruits (like peaches and apples, for example) picked too early can often develop a mealy texture. If you’re having a tough time developing veggie and fruit-eating habits in your kids, make sure you are using fresh foods from the garden, farmers market, or the Willy Street Co-op, where a special effort is made to make local produce available. Children who work with healthy food are more likely to eat it. Get your child more interested in fresh vegetables by enrolling him or her in a youth or family garden project. (Nathan Larson is the Education Program Director at Friends of Troy Gardens; you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-240-0409, or log onto their website at: www.troygardens.org.) Also, take the family to enjoy Madison’s Food for Thought Festival in September to learn more about cooking and access to local organic foods (visit www.reapfoodgroup.org for more details).
The parent’s (defined broadly as primary caregiver’s) role in preventing poor eating patterns for children is to provide a home environment that promotes healthy habits.
Parents profoundly influence children by promoting values and attitudes, rewarding or reinforcing specific behaviors, and by serving as role models. Parents are the policy- makers for the home through their daily decisions on physical activity, food availability and setting.
In the process of teaching your kids to eat healthy and providing the environment where this can happen, parents need to be aware of the potential effects of direct marketing of foods towards their kids. In America since the late 1970s, obesity rates have more than doubled among kids age 2-5 and 12-19 and tripled in kids aged 6-11. One of the consequences is that type 2 diabetes is no longer rare in pediatric practice. Distressed about the causes and economic costs associated with these increases, in 2004, Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine the direct marketing of foods to children as one potential cause. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) study resulting from these efforts demonstrated that food marketing intentionally targets children too young to distinguish advertising from truth and the kids are then induced to eat “junk” foods that subsequently result in deterioration of their health and set the stage for chronic health problems to develop. Reviews of food giants, like McDonald’s, marketing strategies since the IOM report indicate that though they are providing healthier appearances and options, they continue to equally promote and make more affordable high-sugar, nutrient-devoid food products. Teach your kids that marketing is not reality and that we eat food to fuel our systems.
Since studies indicate that healthy nutrition habits stem from healthy food being available in the home, let’s discuss how to stock your pantry:
Tip #1: When you go to the store, buy only the foods you want your children to have. This will avoid struggles over food at home.
Tip #2: Shop primarily from the organic produce section, the bulk food aisle and refrigerated sections. When you stroll to the checkout counter, your cart should be filled with food that is alive or as close to nature as possible. (Frozen fruits and vegetables can be almost as nutritious as fresh, especially if the fresh produce is coming from a long ways away.) A shopping cart full of boxes and cans is not as nutritious because the food was processed weeks to months previously, not to mention the chemical residues of the packaging that are imparted to the food.
Tip #3: Read the ingredient label. If you are choosing a packaged food, read the label to make the wisest choice.
- Avoid a long ingredient list. The shorter the list the better as there will be less fillers and food additives. The simpler the food and the meal, the easier it will be for your child to digest and get the nutrients needed.
- Avoid synthetic ingredients. Do not eat foods made in a laboratory. If you do not know how to pronounce or identify an ingredient, ask for help. (A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter is helpful as is Wikipedia on the internet).
- Avoid sugar (including corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, sucrose, aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda). Labels stating brown rice syrup, whole cane juice, maple syrup, or agave nectar are better choices but not ideal. And, these natural sugars should be way at the bottom of the ingredient list as opposed to the top.
- Avoid table salt (use sea salt or seaweeds like dulse flakes instead).
- Avoid vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils. Reduce or eliminate foods that contain vegetable oils (canola, linseed, soybean, sunflower, etc.). These oils are unstable and disrupt healthy fat metabolism. Some labels will say “cold-pressed” oils and these are preferable. Olive oil and butter are the best options for fats. Fish, eggs, raw nuts and seeds (in whole or crushed forms) are also good suppliers of fats.
- Avoid white flours and enriched refined flours.
Eating three meals per day is very important—skipping meals or delaying a meal will increase the appetite for sweets and instant gratification foods.
Here are alternatives to bagels and cold cereal.
- Energy drink (see recipe below)
- Fresh fruit in season
- Baked apple with cinnamon
- Fresh avocado
- Poached organic eggs
- Baked sweet potato with butter and/or natural sweetener
- Whole grain granola (Examples: Nature’s Bakery Almond Raisin, Cinnamon Apple Crunch or Maple Walnut Granola)
- Sprouted Bread (Example: Ezekiel, Nature’s Bakery Essene) with avocado, butter, or raw almond butter. Rotate the breads you serve to avoid developing sensitivities or developing digestive issues)
- Oatmeal, millet or brown rice hot cereal (Example: Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Rice Hot Cereal)