At the rates kids grow, what we feed them matters greatly to their physical, mental, and emotional health. (Not mention their behavior.)
What to feed children is a somewhat controversial topic and a point of frustration for a lot of parents. This is one of the areas I used to get the most questions when I did nutritional consulting, and a hotly debated issue among moms.
Over the years my husband and I have developed our own food guidelines that we follow at our house, and it’s definitely helped. I’ll share what’s worked (and what hasn’t) in hopes it helps with any picky eaters at your house!
My feelings run high on this topic, so grab a cup of (organic, herbal) tea, this is going to be a long one …
Junk Food, Junk Food Everywhere …
It’s quite obvious, with a quick stroll down the perilous middle aisles of any grocery store, that a lot of food marketing targets children. (After all, silly rabbit, “Trix are for kids!”)
Not so subtle TV commercials and even blatant bribe marketing (Happy Meal toys) seek to educate our kids about nutrition. Call me old fashioned, but I’m not content to let a clown with big red shoes teach my kids what good food looks like. (And I don’t care if it does come with milk and apple slices, Ronald!)
It is also no secret that obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates are skyrocketing in kids and appearing at younger and younger ages…. Could there be a connection? (hint: yes!)
While most parents (I hope) agree that basic foods like healthy proteins and green veggies are important staples for the little ones, the issue of child nutrition is hardly a clear cut one anymore. With soccer games to play, choir practices to attend, and a social schedule that would have made me dizzy at their ages, most kids these days (and moms!) just aren’t home at meal times much. This rapidly paced lifestyle makes it easier to justify quick food, even if it is devoid of nutrients.
Food as a Reward
Another factor that I have noticed with many children is the connection to food as a type of reward. From a young age we reward birthdays with sweets, school achievements with meals out, good deeds with ice cream, and even healthy eating with dessert (if you eat all 3 of your peas, you can have a piece of cake…)
Couple the above factors with the fact that most kids, once they escape the nutrient-devoid school lunches and finally get home at night, are too tired to get the benefits of going outside and play or chase a ball around for fun, and instead curl up in front of the TV or video games with a snack.
With the world against her, what is a health-conscious mom to do? This is a question I struggled with myself for a long time before finally reaching family peace! Before I get to the “how,” let’s talk about the “what” to eat!
What to Feed Kids (Hint: Start with What Not To)
With the hubbub of daily life, it is easy to forget just how important our kids’ nutrition is. Like I said, while most parents agree on the benefits of veggies and healthy proteins, it is all the other things that seem to cause the debate. Is dairy ok? Should they drink fruit juice? If so, how much? Is sugar OK in moderation?
While there is certainly plenty of room for parental choice in a child’s diet, there are a few core food groups to build around (I’ll give you a hint … it doesn’t look like the regular food pyramid!).
The good news is, the basic rule of what to feed kids is simple:
The most basic way to test if a child should be eating a given substance is to determine if it is actually a food or not.
Any “food” that can sit on a shelf and not decompose for a year is likely not fit for consumption. (Try that with a salad and see what happens!) This “non-food” list would also include anything containing hydrogenated oils (peanut, soy, cottonseed, vegetable, canola, etc), anything containing MSG, anything containing high fructose corn syrup, anything containing artificial sweeteners, and anything containing processed grains.
This basically knocks out all the fast food, microwaveable food, “food” bars, and most drinks besides water.
So, what’s left? Plenty!