Growing up in a family of doctors and health experts, I’ve come to learn a few things here and there about nutrition and eating healthy. I don’t have an MD or a PhD in medicine, but learning from my own mistakes, doing extensive research, and working at my parent’s medical clinic has taught me some important lessons. Now most of these lessons everyone probably already know about: eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink water and not soda, and exercise as often as possible. But as a first time parent, I also did a lot of research on proper nutrition for babies and children and I asked a lot of questions. Because kids after all, depend on us to provide them with the right nutrition and to grow healthily and happily.
As I grew up in my parents house, they taught me to eat fresh vegetables and fruits and to maintain a healthy weight. However, once I went off to college on my own, the not-so-healthy monster reigned during my college years. I think (like most college kids), it was mostly due to studying into the wee hours of the night, juggling friends and having fun, and just not enough time to eat right. I remembered back in college when I started feeling sluggish or tired, it was probably contributed by my poor eating habits and lack of sleep. As I got older, I went back to trying to eat healthier and doing the right exercises to rebuild my health and stamina. I recollected the important lessons that my parents taught me about eating properly and eating appropriately and my not-so-healthy monster happily waved goodbye.
The ironic thing about eating healthy and nutritionally is that you have to keep at it. Much like riding a bike or doing the laundry – you simply have to do it often in order to make a habit of it and be good at it. When I say be “good” at it, I mean making good choices instinctively and without thinking twice about it. Examples would be choosing fresh fruits over canned fruits, drinking water instead of soda, exercising instead of sitting around doing nothing, fresh vegetables instead of vegetable in a sauce, and eating power foods that help enhance your health. These are all crucial lessons that I’ve learned and am trying to teach my son. So far he really enjoys eating fresh fruits and he loves drinking water. If you emphasize the importance of these lesssons, then you will instill a lasting love of healthy and nutritional foods.
Kids living in the United States nowadays are overburdened with junk food. They see it on TV, they read it in magazines, and they even have it in their schools. And when parents are faced with demands at work, at home, and anywhere else, sometimes it’s just easier to grab the most convenient foods on the store’s shelf and call it a day. But little do parents know that they are showing their kids that it’s okay to eat junk foods or convenient foods that have absolutely no nutritional value (example: white bread). And what happens when your kids see their friends eating a Twinkie or drinking soda? Well, if you have taught your kids to eat healthy and make healthy food choices from the beginning, then most likely they’ll be disinterested in what their friends are eating. Or at best, they’ll ask you about it and you can tell them that those are not good food choices. It’s probably okay to indulge them once in awhile, but you know the old saying – once you’ve had a taste of it, you’ll want more.
So what do you to when you don’t have the time, money, or resources to buy healthy foods? Well, you can start with the basics. Choose foods that are higher in nutritional content and filled with important nutrients that are necessary for a child’s growing body and brain. My ultimate suggestion is buying organic of course, but if it’s not possible, then choose locally grown and buy organic when possible. After all, kids are still more susceptible to toxic pesticides, fertilizers, and chemically-produced foods. Below are some suggestions to what’s appropriate for kids and the importance of them:
Calcium – this is an important nutrient for growing bodies. Calcium along with enough Vitamin D, can help build strong muscles and bones in a growing child’s body. Start them early on this and they’ll develop strong bones and muscles into their adult years. Once adult’s reach a certain age, the calcium in their bones start to deplete regularly, so it’s also crucial for adults to take Calcium and Vitamin D together for absolute absorption. Here is a link to a great article on Calcium and children: http://www.dairycouncilofca.org/PDFs/Calcium_and_Kids-web.pdf. Foods that are rich in calcium and that kids will enjoy are:
Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Fortified foods, Soymilk (make sure soymilk are fortified), and Ice Cream (as long as it’s made with whole milk).
Iron – Iron is essential for red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body and for important brain health. When kids are low in iron, they are sluggish and tired and can’t concentrate. Babies get iron from their mother’s breast milk, but after they’ve stopped drinking breast milk, it’s important to include this vital vitamin in their diet. Although I don’t recommend young kids to be vegetarians, vegetarians can get their intake of iron from soy, lentils, nuts, dark greens, and iron-fortified grains. Just remember to eat Vitamin C- rich foods along with Iron-rich foods for better absorbtion. Foods that are rich in Iron are:
Beef, Poultry, Beans, Nuts, Mollusks, Lentils, Chickpeas, Soybeans, Egg Yolks, Dark Leafy Greens, Raisins, and Iron-enriched Cereals.
Be cautious of too much iron consumption in young kids however. Overdose of iron can be dangerous and always consult an expert if you’re unsure.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerhouse and pretty much most of the vegetables and fruits available contain this important vitamin. It helps with proper absorbtion of most other foods because it is easily digestible and your body knows how to filter it throughout. Vitamin C is also great for building your immunity and is essential in the maintenance of bones, muscles, and blood vessels. Although it hasn’t been proven to truly prevent colds in kids and adults, eating enough of this important vitamin along with other nutrient-rich foods will help build a foundation of good health . Foods that are rich in Vitamin C are:
Oranges, Tangerines ( or any citrus fruits), Guavas, Strawberries, Papayas, Kiwi, Dark Leafy Greens, Tomatoes, and Broccoli
Potassium – This important nutrient helps with normal heart and muscle function, maintains proper fluid balance, and builds energy. It also helps promote strong bones. It will also help kids keep a normal blood pressure which can carry on into adulthood. Foods that are rich in Potassium are:
Vegetables and Fruits that are “orange-colored” such as oranges, tangerines, bananas, apricots, and cantalope, Tomatoes, Milk, Yogurt, and Fish.
Fiber – Fiber is such an essential nutrient because kids and adults need it on a daily basis. Fiber helps regulate the stomach and the intestinal tract so that kids will feel regular. Fiber helps with digestion so that important nutrients can properly pass through their system for proper assimilation. Fiber is also great at keeping kids full, especially when kids run around all day depleting a lot of energy. Foods that are rich in Fiber are:
Legumes, Lentils, Berries, Nuts, Chickpeas, Oranges, Apples, and Cereal that contain high fiber content.
Along with these power foods for the proper development in kids, parents need to also remember that cutting down on heavily processed foods and foods that contain addictive qualities such as refined sugar and high sodium only leads to health problems down the line. And feeding kids too much sugary foods make them depend on sugar to enjoy a proper meal. If you don’t give your kids sugar from the beginning, then they’ll think it’s absolutely normal not to have it in their daily diet. Of course sugar is unavoidable, but it’s better to get them from natural sources such as fresh fruits, or at least have them eat foods that are low in the sugar and sodium content. I have also found that organic milk tastes a lot sweeter than non-organic milk. Maybe it’s the cows diet, maybe not, but organic milk is not only beneficial to the health, but to the cows and the environment as well.
Along with limiting refined sugar, high sodium, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and trans fat, it’s also important to choose whole grains instead of enriched grains. Much of the necessary nutrients in grains are removed during the “enriching” process thus making the food less nutritional. To me it’s rather ironic that companies who make enriched bread don’t realize that much of what they’re doing to adding important nutrients to their bread was already inside the grains before they removed them. Whole grains are also rich in fiber and minerals and they taste a whole lot better too.
As with most foods, it’s best to eat them in its raw form or at least minimally processed. When your kids eat too many processed foods, the essential vitamins and minerals are lost in the process and they just end up eating non-nutritional foods. I know it may be hard for some kids to eat certain foods unless it’s soaked in sugar, but start them at an early age and they’ll grow to love it and will even ask for it. My son would prefer eating his favorite fruits over any sugary treats. So if you set down a plate of cut fruits in front of your child, most likely he’ll eat it because there’s nothing else. Besides, fruits are so naturally sweet, juicy, and fun to eat, why wouldn’t you want your kids to enjoy them?
So the next time you’re inclined to pop open a bag of M&Ms for your child as a treat, try placing a plate of sliced fruits with some melted dark chocolate. You are in control of what you give your children to eat and in turn giving them the much needed knowledge for their future.
photo courtesy of Earthbound Farm (http://www.ebfarm.com/)
*Editors note – these are just suggestions from Happymomblogger. The statements used in this post are not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any sickness or diseases. Do your own research when possible and trust your instincts when it comes to giving your children the proper nutrition for ultimate health.