So you have kids. They may not have a weight problem, and so you think it doesn’t matter what snacks they eat and you don’t worry about giving them the Oreos, Luncheables, Goldfish crackers, or soda pop they ask you for.
Wait a second, k? I am not going to recommend that you go all GI-Joe on your kids and start lecturing them on calorie content. In fact, I highly recommend NOT doing so— especially with young growing children. HOWEVER, as parents, it is truly our responsibility to teach them about a healthy balanced diet, introduce them to a wide variety of healthy food choices and teach them that eating healthy CAN and SHOULD be fun and tasty! Just because you don’t have a weight problem doesn’t mean you should eat Doritos instead of baby carrots. Those healthier choices help build stronger bones, healthier muscles, stronger immune systems, healthier brains, help sleep and behavior issues, school performance—- not to mention set them up for a healthier adulthood.
Here are some of my tips… (I am not a pediatrician or dietician, just a parent, personal trainer and lifestyle coach who is speaking from experience and research.)
1. DON’T BUY THE JUNK FOOD. You heard me. Stop buying it. If it’s not in the house, nobody will ask for it or be tempted. When snack time rolls around… instead of chips and Goldfish crackers… offer a variety of colored fruits and veggies. My kids (ages 6 and 3) love baby carrots and sweet peppers with hummus and/or guacamole; they love air popped popcorn, grapes, apples, bananas, berries, sugar snap peas, roasted seaweed. They also love yogurt, string cheese and smoothies (especially Shakeology!)
2. AVOID STICKY SNACKS. Sticky snacks such as fruit snacks not only are loaded with sugar, but also stick to teeth and lead to cavity formation.
3. LIMIT FRUIT JUICE. 100% fruit juices look nutritious but they are extremely high in calories. Children aged 1-6 should have only 4-6 ounces of juice a day. You can double this amount for kids aged 7-18.
4. AVOID FOOD DYES. Bright reds and neon blues are attractive to kids, but synthetic food dyes, at the very least, have no nutritional value, and at the worst, can be harmful. They are often linked to behavior issues and digestive ailments. Avoid them when you can. As a rule, I try to steer my kids clear of strange colored foods, especially those that contained RED 40 which is linked directly to cancer.
5. WHAT IS BAD FOR US IS BAD FOR THEM TOO. Just because they are children and might be bean poles, doesn’t mean they NEED a cupcake or fried chicken. They do need food– and calories and healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables…. but this should come from whole foods, without artificial chemicals, sugars, dyes. When you are traveling and pack healthy snack choices for yourself–pack them for your kids too. We don’t make seperate meals anymore. What I make for dinner my kids get offered. Do they always eat all of it? Nope. Do I care? Sometimes, but they won’t starve themselves. They will try it maybe, either eat it or move on. I won’t make them eat something they hate– but I do want to be exposed to a variety of healthy food choices or they will never know if they like it or not! My 6 year old swore up and down she hated meat and now she can’t get enough lean bison burgers or shrimp cocktail. 😉
6. MODERATION: Moderation is the key. You don’t have to take an all or nothing approach. When my girls beg for the multi-colored, Monster Inc. fruit snacks, I get a box sometimes. They finish them over the course of a few days, and then I don’t buy them again for a long while. (Here’s a tip. Don’t take the kids shopping with you if you don’t want to buy junk.) The important thing is to remember junk food is junk food no matter what the box says. You can let your family indulge occasionally, but snack foods, “healthy”, organic, gluten- free or otherwise, should not take the place of fresh fruits or vegetables.
Remember that your tiny little people are people. They have a growing body and should not be dieting unless under supervision of a physician, but you can still encourage healthy eating habits. 🙂
Hope this helps!