In the U.S. today, around 40% of children are either overweight or obese! That statistic would have been unheard of 20 years ago, but unfortunately the prevalence of salt, sugar, and fat in processed foods, combined with lack of physical activity has led our children down an unhealthy path. The only way we can prevent today’s children from having a shorter life-span than their parents is by making significant changes. And that all starts with you parents! Imagine if your child had a peanut allergy…you would go out of your way to make sure to protect him/her from any food containing peanuts. So why would you feed your children food that could cause them diabetes, heart disease, stroke, ADHD, cancer, dementia, migraines, autoimmune disorders, depression, and the list goes on and on. That’s exactly what too much processed food, dairy and animal products will do to your children in the long run.
Now, I’m fully aware that there are a lot of challenges out there when it comes to eating healthy. Cost, convenience, kid’s taste buds, peer pressure, lack of knowledge, just to name a few. But instead of giving up, let’s discuss what changes you can implement to increase the health and wellness of your children and family one step at a time.
Cook at Home: Cooking at home can not only save you money, but you get to control what goes into your dishes. Almost all restaurant & pre-made food has a TON of excess salt, sugar, and fat in it to keep it fresh and edible. Those three things lead to weight gain, lack of energy, bloating, and all of the other diseases and ailments I mentioned earlier. Short on time? We all are! That’s why it’s so important to PLAN AHEAD! I suggest making a few dishes a couple of times a week that you can eat more than once. You can also prepare food and freeze it, like soups or a healthier vegetarian lasagne. This will definitely cut down your cooking time. Have your kids help you prepare the meals too! They love getting their hands messy, and they also learn the importance of eating healthy. Not to mention you get to spend quality time together!
Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Go through your pantries and refrigerator and get rid of all the processed food! When you don’t have junk in your home, you’re not going to be tempted to eat it. An occasional splurge is always fine, but if you always have chips, soda, sugary cereals, and cookies in your cupboard, you’re going to be in bad shape. Your children will associate those empty calorie foods with what it means to eat. So change their perception as soon as you can, so they know what broccoli, quinoa, green juice, salmon, and apples are. A bonus to eating nutrient-rich foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, is that you will not have the desire to snack as often because your body will be satisfied. It’s when you eat empty calories that you feel the need to snack as it’s your body’s way of telling you to fuel it with vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Create Healthy Alternatives: This might be the MOST important tip I give in this entire article! Healthy doesn’t mean you have to get rid of some of your favorite indulgences. I’m not going to lie, my cheat foods are pizza and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Instead of depriving myself of the occasional splurge, I’ve found healthier recipe choices to my two favorite treats. For pizza, I’ve found an amazing Cauliflower Crust recipe to replace the standard pizza dough crust. I also load up on veggie toppings and minimize the amount of cheese I use to reduce the salt and fat content. For my Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, my friend gave me a delicious recipe that uses oat flour instead of white flour, coconut oil instead of butter and eggs, and honey instead of refined sugar. I actually end up eating A LOT less when I do indulge because my recipes have REAL ingredients with REAL nutrients, so I become satisfied a lot quicker. I encourage you to find alternative recipes (Pinterest is a great resource) to some of your family’s favorite dishes so you don’t feel deprived, and so you aren’t forcing your kids to “eat their vegetables” (Because you are already sneaking in more HEALTHY ingredients without them knowing!)
Find Your Local Farmer’s Market: Almost every city in America has a Farmer’s Market, Co-op, farm, or fresh local produce alternative, so find it! The fruits, veggies, and herbs are fresher than at grocery stores, they are organic and they can often times be more affordable. You can also find farm-raised animal products that don’t contain pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. Plus you are supporting the local economy and you know where your food is coming from and how it was produced!
Buy Frozen Fruits & Veggies: If fresh produce is scarce in your neck of the woods, try buying frozen fruits and veggies instead! They are often fresher than most produce because they are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness, so they will not only taste great, but have an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and nutrients. You can also buy in bulk since they won’t go bad like fresh produce. A side note – make sure to never buy canned or fruit in syrup. There’s a ton of sugar as well as the toxic chemical BPA, which has been linked to a whole host of terrible things, especially in children. Lastly, make sure to refer to your “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” list to see which fruits and veggies you should buy organic and which ones you don’t have to: http://kaleighwalker.com/nutrition/should-i-buy-organic/
Grow A Garden: This is a fun activity to do as a family as it teaches kids responsibility, as well as how food grows! Even if you can only grow herbs or a couple of tomatoes, give it a try! When you get to make a dish with something you grew, it always seems to taste a little bit better! 🙂
Limit Dairy Intake: I recently posted a blog about why you should avoid dairy, so read up: http://kaleighwalker.com/uncategorized/10-reasons-why-you-should-avoid-dairy/ But the good news is, there are a lot of healthy alternatives that are equally as good! Almond milk and Coconut Milk are two great alternatives to use in lieu of dairy products for Milk, Ice Cream, and Yogurt. There are also nut-based cheeses. If you are going to have dairy, goat’s milk is the easiest form for our bodies to digest and assimilate. Another good point to remember is that dairy is one of the top allergen-causing foods. If you child suffers from allergies, asthma, auto-immune disorders, migraines, ADHD, acid reflux, acne, chronic colds or constipation, dairy could most definitely be the culprit.
Get Rid of the Refined Sugar: Refined White Sugar is EIGHT TIMES more addictive than cocaine. Yes EIGHT TIMES! On average, a child in the U.S. consumes around 34 teaspoons of sugar PER DAY. To put that number into perspective, our hunter/gatherer ancestors only consumed around 20 teaspoons EACH YEAR. To make matters worse, a children’s tolerance for sugary foods is much higher than adults. That is one of the main reasons why they can more easily stomach ice cream, nerds, snickers and fruit loops in one sitting. But unfortunately, refined sugar in processed foods is one of the top reasons why our children are obese, as well as suffering from a multitude of ailments including ADHD and migraines. I recommend you replace your sweets with fruit or dried fruit (with no added sugar), or to use honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, or stevia as sweeteners in desserts. I also encourage you to talk with your children (in an age-appropriate way) about how sugar does not give your body the fuel it needs to have fun and be healthy. They are like sponges and will absorb everything you say and do. A great documentary recently came out called “Fed Up” that I encourage you to watch to better understand the effects of refined white sugar.
Get Involved At Your Kid’s School: Do you know what your kids school lunch menus look like? If not, you are probably in for a big surprise, and not a good one. Both Michelle Obama and activists like Jamie Oliver are working towards changing school lunches, but more pressure is needed by parents like you! If you demand change and work towards finding healthier alternatives, or demand to get rid of processed foods and vending machines, or demand that kids not sell frozen cookie dough for fundraisers, a lot of progress can be made. So get involved!
Get Your Kid’s Moving: Our children are growing up in a much different world than we did. Computers and technology limit the amount of time a child is moving and exerting energy. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your child by getting them involved in something active! It could be a sport, bike ride, rollerblading, dancing, yoga, jump rope, hide & seek, whatever! Just make sure they are moving and stretching their bodies for a couple of hours each and every day. It is so important for both their physical and mental well-being, and it creates positive habits that will remain with them for years to come.