How do you and your kids rate on the 4-Leaf scale? Modern life can make it very hard to keep to a simple and healthy diet for your family. Once you're in the know, you can at least avoid these common traps.
1. Wholegrains have too much fibre for kids
It's only recently that we could be wasteful enough to refine foods, and it wasn't a positive step for anyone, healthwise. Not only fibre but also vital nutrients get stripped out.
"Too much fibre fills up kids' stomachs and they don't eat enough..."
"Too much fibre stops nutrients being absorbed, so kids will suffer..."
Where is the evidence for these endlessly repeated theories? I can't even find the study which apparently started it all, where a child was unwisely given lots of high bran cereals and fibre supplements (not wholegrains).
This review of the scientific literature asks: should we worry about high fibre for children? Answer: No, we should encourage more fibre.
That could be the last word, but it's worth noting the media hype of a recent UK study on nursery food and nutrition - when they found that nurseries were feeding children lots of fruits and vegetables and not much fat and saturated fat, did they applaud in relief? No, their nutritionist said this risked the children's health.
This study did not examine a single child for starvation, poor nutrition, or poor development. The food served was simply held up against the current nutritional recommendations (strongly influenced by food lobbies for meat, milk, and sugar) and declared wanting.
Some great advice from PCRM - they recommend you encourage a taste for whole grains and avoid sugars and highly processed foods. It's much harder to get into the whole foods habit if you've always had the softer, sweeter version, but here are some tried and tested hints for transitioning to whole grains.
2. Kids shouldn't be on a lowfat diet
Humans do need some fats, and young children do need more than adults. One important natural source of fat for young children is breast milk. I follow the WHO's recommendations to continue breastfeeding until age 2 and beyond, and one reason is so my children get this vital source of perfectly-designed fats and other nutrients.
But foods today are fattened up in the factory like foie gras geese. If children need more fats to grow, does it follow that we should remain unaware of a child's fat consumption?
- New Zealand (2006/7) - 1 in 5 children overweight; 1 in 12 children obese
- USA (2008) - 1 in 3 children overweight; 1 in 5 obese
A healthy diet means far more than just fat levels. But fat has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 for carbohydrates and protein.
Some healthy fats come from whole grains, nuts, seeds, and avocados. But most are refined fats added to processed foods to improve both the mouthfeel of the foods (so your child will want more) and the profit margin for international conglomerate food companies.
So reducing fat in a child's diet is hardly medically risky or child abuse - quite the opposite.
3. My kids aren't fat or unhealthy
Congratulations! Your kids are young and active, and they're burning off the calories they eat so far.
But their taste buds have been in training since birth. They taste the flavours of the food their mother eats when they drink breast milk, and they learn to like the solids they're fed thereafter. They won't always be tiny power racers!
Again from PCRM -
"Eating habits are set in early childhood...Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends."
4. My kids won't eat healthy food
Perhaps not. Mine do eat healthy food as well as more traditional treats, and here's how it happened. Only you know your family's eating story, but consider the following:
- Do they see you eat and enjoy fruits, vegetables, roots, and whole grains every day?
- Do they get to choose to eat the fruits and vegetables they like?
- Do you present them with care and attention?
As per school rules for healthy eating, I prepared a fruit platter for my son's class for his birthday. They were truly excited to see fresh pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe (rockmelon), cherry tomatoes, and grapes.
You have power over this - even over strong advertising messages.
5. If you make kids eat good food, they will just rebel later
OK, I see how that works!
- If you make your kids play outside or do sports, they'll become couch potatoes later.
- If you make your kids learn their school lessons, they'll never read or write again.
- If you make your kids be polite and kind and clean up after themselves, they'll become really rude messy teenagers... OK, slippery slope there.
We show our kids habits when they're young, and they're more likely to continue whatever habits they learned - healthy or not.
Parental influence is very important - learn what works and what backfires.
6. If you restrict unhealthy foods, they will only want them more
While there is some psychological truth to the forbidden fruit theory, remember, that was fruit.
There is a famous study from the 1930s showing that children given a range of basically healthy foods to choose from will eventually select a variety of balanced nutrition.
But your child is in the uncontrolled study called life - and often a child is presented with far more unhealthy choices. There is no natural appetite limiter for refined sweet and fatty foods like doughnuts, chocolate, and fries. By the time your body says enough, you've already eaten too much. It's worse for a child, who has more enthusiasm and a smaller stomach.
Of course, like an adult, each child has different tastes - enjoying food is key.
7. All the other kids eat this way
Remember what your mother said:
If all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?
Peer pressure can help you. Young children are particularly likely to eat what their peers are eating, and that goes for vegetables too.
Crucially, you and your kids can be the change we need to see - wouldn't it be great if all the other kids could be eating (and enjoying) healthy food too?
How do you encourage your kids toward your dream of a healthy diet?