Growing up I wasn’t allowed a lot of junk food. Not that I didn’t want any, but because I come from a family of health experts. Meals were freshly made and snacks consisted of fresh fruit and vegetables and homemade desserts. I didn’t really know the addictive qualities of “junk food” until I started middle school. And then it all went down hill from there. Well, not anything that tragic, but the effects of what extra sugar and sodium can do to the brain led me to buying Twinkies and Doritos during lunch time at school.
In hindsight, I truly believed that had I been allowed some junk food now and then, I might not have gone all Rambo on the sweets and chips. However, it wasn’t until I went into college that the awakening sort of happened. In college, and especially if you live away from home, you have to monitor yourself. Your self control is truly tested among other behaviors. I felt a deep lag in my own health when studying late into the night and hanging out with friends caused some health issues. I felt horrible that instead of picking up a fresh apple, I picked up an apple pie from McDonald’s instead. But when you’re still young, you don’t really think about the bad consequences of what you put into your body.
Now, many years later, and starting my own career and family, I’ve learned quite a lot on making healthy life choices. I chose to eat better and made more conscious choices. The road to my healthier preferences weren’t always pretty, but I hope the end results will be satisfying.
If you’re looking to eat better so that you’ll feel better, know that food is a direct relation to our health. I try not to fill up the house with junk food but when you see advertisements marketing towards a convenient lifestyle, you’re going to end up buying and eating something unhealthy now and then. The key however, is to limit yourself and to start off as early as possible. That is why with children, the earliest you teach them about eating healthier, the better chances they’ll have at making healthier choices when they get older. Your kids will undoubtedly get influenced by TV and online ads as well as by their friends and classmates. But if you instill a love and appreciation for eating healthier, they’ll eventually get the big picture.
So how do we un-junk our food? Let’s start with what we have in our own homes. Yes, that means you have to go to your refrigerators and cabinets and see what you have in there. Take an inventory if you must, but taking the first step to wanting to be healthier might be the hardest step.
After you’ve taken inventory of what you already have, follow these simple steps:
1 – Check the ingredients and labels. If most of the packaging has simple and natural ingredients, then you’re doing great! Avoid ingredients that have unhealthy additives such as artificial food coloring, preservatives, and flavoring.
2 – Have more fresh fruits and vegetables. We live in a country where fresh fruits and vegetables grow abundantly. Let’s not shy away from fresh and wholesome fruits and vegetables. We are helping our own bodies, our planet, and farms.
3 – Support brands and companies that provide healthier food and treats. Look for ingredients such as actual fruits and vegetables. No artificial flavors or colors, and organically grown. One of my son’s favorite organic snack brands is Wildmade Snacks (https://wildmadesnacks.com/). They make organic fruit rollups, strips, and bites and they contain only fruits and vegetables. They’re not too sweet and you can taste the various flavors.
4 – Don’t buy in bulk. Bulk food buying is really a great marketing trick. Stores advertise it and make you think you really need that 20-pound Rice Crispies cereal. If you must buy in bulk, try buying bulk fresh food such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein including beans and lentils. Even frozen fruits will keep well in the freezer when your child needs an easy and quick lunch. Buying in bulk becomes a waste as we tend to forget we bought so much and they end up in the trash can.
5 – Find out your dietary needs. If you have certain health conditions that require you to eat or avoid certain foods, then get your list together now. If you don’t have any specific health concerns, then start off with fresh food. Always buy fresh whenever possible because there usually aren’t any artificial preservatives in them.
6 – Notice your mood. When we’re depressed, sad, or tired, our body and mind triggers warnings that we require sustanance. Easily, the most valuable and yet detrimental substances are sugar and salt. They create addictive qualities in our brains and bodies making us think we need more of them. Notice what mood you are in when hunger strikes and instead of reaching for that Twinkie (you accidentally found in your grocery cart and brought it home), munch on sliced apples with some honey or yogurt. You’re getting the sugar that fuels your brain and body and the extra nutrients and supplements that support a healthier body. This especially holds true for children. Their capricious moods are often derived from lack of proper nutrition.
7 – Give children the ability to choose. Take them grocery shopping with you now and then and show them the difference between the fresh pears and the ones in cans. Yes, fresh fruit will always be better because we don’t know how the canned versions are processed. Help them choose some new type of fruit or vegetable so they can try something new and unique.
8 – Don’t deny yourself. We might need the occassional Twinkie or donut, but let’s not make a habit out of it. Our children will most likely eat whatever is in the fridge or pantry. It’s okay to have some chips now and then or some chocolate covered peanuts. Moderation and realization is the key to a healthier life.
9 – Create a back to school food station. I have a friend that puts fresh fruit, cut up vegetables, dried fruit, and crackers in individual bins. Her older kids know they can always pack these healthier versions for school or snack on them afterschool. If you’re at home for school due to school closures, now is the best time ever to reinvent your healthier back to school meals.
10 – Investment. Just like we make investments with our money for possible future growth, we must also do so with our health. Invest in higher quality, fresher, and better for you ingredients. Your body will thank you for it now and in the future.
11 – Use recipes. While most of us are still staying home during the pandemic, we are getting more creative with our cooking skills. Have your kids help you with new recipes or teach them to cook something that they really like or that is easy to make. When kids associate cooking with their own hands, they see the end result and are more inclined to make something healthy.
No matter the stage you are in when it comes to eating healthier, know that you can make the change any time. You are inevitably in control of your health. Teach your children that they must also be in control of their own health and body. As I went from a healthy eating habit child to a not so healthy habit in college, and then finally back to being more health conscious, I’ve learned to be more intuned with my body and what it needs. Your kids can do the same. Start young and empower them to make better choices for their health and wellness.
*photo courtesy of Wildmade.com and Whole Foods Market
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