Do you spend time reinforcing good health habits with your child? There are a variety of messages sent to children from many sources about health. Many of these messages contain false information, so it is important to help your child understand the reasons why.
Food manufacturers, for example, label foods they sell as “healthy”, “natural“, “trans fat free”, “whole grains” or “low-fat“. Do these claims make foods healthy? Although the pressure to buy these products is always there, it’s important to realize that our children’s health begins with us. If we don’t go beyond store bought foods and educate ourselves about what will keep our children healthy during the formative, developmental years, it will have negative effects for the rest of their lives.
With that said, it’s critical for children to receive healthy, proteins, and cholesterol for brain, heart, and other body organ system health and development. So it’s up to us, the parents, to be willing to go outside of what conventional wisdom recommends for nutrition, as most conventional ideas about what is believed and taught is actually harmful for children’s health.
Making smart choices for your child’s diet really can make an enormous difference in their ability to learn and develop, ward off illness and disease, maintain energy and focus, stay physically active and keep moods balanced out.
Be interested and interactive with your child about healthy choices for health and life. Here are some suggestions:
- Just like grownups, children need real foods with full fats and proteins for good health. Foods with fat are replete with essential nutrients our bodies need to maintain various functions. If you aren’t eating these foods already, consider the following: raw milk, grass-fed meats and poultry, eggs from pasture-raised hens, organic fruits and vegetables, raw, sprouted nuts and seeds, whole, sprouted and soaked grains, rice, and legumes. Foods that have been processed (changed or altered somehow) with preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, high-heat, or are low-fat or non-fat are all foods we should avoid consuming. Real, traditional, whole foods from nature provide the correct balance of nutrients and other essential components (like essential fatty acids, antioxidants, co-factors, and enzymes necessary for absorption, correct digestion, and good health).
- If you are on a budget, don’t despair. You can still make some healthy changes without overspending. Removing processed foods and replacing with real foods are the main idea. Try making nutritious broths from scratch with bones, water, salt, celery, carrots, and onions. You can add a little meat to it for more sustenance and this can make several meals. Include plenty of vegetables, some sprouted bread with plenty of butter, and you will have a nutritious, economic meal. Here are some tips for saving money on organic foods.
- Help your child to understand the connection between a healthy immune system and a healthy diet, which keeps you from becoming sick. When children eat healthy foods and have energy, focus, and feel good, they will be more motivated to make healthy choices as they grow older.
- Provide a good variety of healthy cooked and raw foods. Also consider fermented, raw foods that are nutrient-rich such as yogurt and kefir, and lacto-fermented vegetables (see recipes at the end of Getting the Most out of Your Vegetables). Fermented foods are naturally rich in friendly bacteria and have a profoundly positive effect on both the immune and digestive systems.
- Avoid as much as possible, refined sugars and processed foods. Beware of processed foods that are believed to be healthy such as pasteurized dairy, low-fat foods, cereals, crackers, tortillas, pastas, food bars, and store-bought breads (those that are not from soaked, sprouted, or fermented grains). For some good descriptions of how to tell what foods are healthy and what aren’t, read this article about knowing your foods.
- Spend time in the kitchen with your child, helping them to learn how to make healthy, delicious foods to serve in your home. Let your child experiment and become exposed to the process of making healthy foods.
- If traditional, whole foods are new to you, start some research about where to shop in your local area as well as on the Internet. Learn about traditional foods for a good foundation for your child’s health. Also read Changing ingredients for a nutrient-dense diet for ideas on how to switch out unhealthy for healthy ingredients in your kitchen.
- Shop for food with your child. Let your child be involved in going to the health food store, farmer’s market, or local farm where you buy food. The more your child becomes connected to where food comes from, the more active and interested he or she will be in eating healthy.
- Vegetables are important, but they should be properly prepared and served with healthy fats. Serving vegetables with butter, olive oil, or animal fats like lard and tallow is very important to ensure absorption of the nutrients in these foods. Animal fats contain fat-soluble vitamins which help with digestion of vegetables and fruits. Another great way to serve vegetables is by culturing and fermenting them. Here’s a great article about how to make your own cultured vegetables at home from Donna Gates (Body Ecology). Cultured vegetables not only provide more nutrients than raw or cooked vegetables, but also contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics which support your child’s immune and digestive system.
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day since the body has been in a fasting state for many hours. It can be an especially challenging time to get in enough nutrients. Fats and proteins are important, but also consider vegetables as a possible component of breakfast. Be willing to think differently about breakfasts and consider preparing items like eggs from pasture-raised hens with no-nitrate bacon or sausage from naturally raised beef or pork. You can incorporate all types of vegetables as well as leftover meats into omelettes such as broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, squash, and zucchini. For some good ideas about breakfast makeovers, read this article.
- Plant a garden with your child, whether it be a community garden, a school garden, or a garden in your own backyard.
Teach your child about the importance of sustainable and organic foods and why organics are superior to the conventionally-grown variety.
- Model good eating habits with your children by eating the same kinds of foods with them when you are together. Even though your child will show some rebellion about some things, he or she really will be affected by your habits, and try to emulate the things you do.
- Become an activist in your community and encourage your child to follow along. Children learn by example and if your actions show that you care about healthy food, your children will grow to care about it as well.
- Communicate to your child that although eating healthy is important, it’s what a person does 90 percent of the time that counts. Occasionally there will be situations where eating healthy is simply not possible – due to outings or visits with other important people in your life who may not follow your philosophy. Be reasonable about these instances, as your child will only have access to food provided to him or her by the responsible adult, or possibly older children.
- In instances where your child will be away from home, such as school lunch or on other outings, consider sending healthy foods in a sack to encourage good eating habits while he or she is not in your care. Here are some great ideas about packing foods for lunch and other occasions, by using foods and leftovers from meals you’ve already prepared.
- When you are planning to make changes in your child’s diet from processed to traditional foods, it may be most effective to integrate changes gradually. You can replace some items right away that are unhealthy with healthy choices you know your child will like. The more you expose your child to the healthier choices, the more he or she will come to expect eating those foods and enjoy them.
- Don’t become discouraged if your child resists change. Be willing to rotate by offering different choices and provide encouragement and perhaps a reward like a fun outing or a break from school work or chores now and then as incentives to try new foods. If your child isn’t eating something you believe he or she should be, take a break from the food and return to it in a few weeks or a month. Above all, keep trying!
Here are some other related topics to feeding your children nutritious foods:
This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays carnival.