We all know that eating habits formed in childhood can last a lifetime. The challenge is to know what foods are appropriate to feed our children. Recently there has been a dramatic increase on the number of obese children and adolescents. This had lead to an alarming increase in the number of young people with Type 2 Diabetes. Are we doing something wrong in the way we are feeding our families?
When you walk into any food market you can get a hint of what is happening to our children. The shelves are full of packaged processed snack foods. These have become a major factor in the diets of our children. Potato chips, Nachos, candy and cookies have become standard fare.
There are several problems with these snacks:
1) They are full of saturated and hydrogenated oil.
2) They are mostly based on refined white starches.
3) They have corn sweeteners.
4) They have too much salt.
The fact is that they are not at all satisfying because these ingredients make the consumer desire to eat more. The oil is tasty and feels good in the mouth, inducing a craving for more. The low fiber white starches, such as white flour and white potato cause a rebound hunger when they are digested. The corn sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup has the ability to be consumed in large quantities without satisfying hunger. The salty taste triggers the desire for more.
High fructose corn syrup, a cheap and powerfully sweet natural substance is present in nearly every package of food produced, including cakes, cookies, cereals, crackers, sodas and flavored drinks and candies. It has been implicated in the Diabetes problem since it is metabolized differently than other sugars. Check the labels! It is amazing how much of it we eat every day.
Many experts have said that if we could go back to baking our own snack foods our kids would be healthier, since the ingredients we use at home are more wholesome than those used in the factories. Using canola oil or other low saturated fat oil instead of solid oils like shortening, and table sugar instead of corn sweetener, would be a major difference. Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables, out of the refrigerator and dried fruits and nuts also make great snack foods.
Besides snacks, we must be thoughtful about what our children eat at meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all important in establishing good eating habits.
Many studies have shown that eating breakfast is very important to school children and adults. Their ability to learn and concentrate is greatly impaired by skipping breakfast. People who skip breakfast tend to eat more in the course of the day than those who eat breakfast.
Breakfast cereals can be good source of nutrition especially when eaten with milk. The sweetened cereals are up to 50% sugar so they should be limited to special occasions or just used to flavor other cereals that are high in fiber. Whole grain bread and butter or cream cheese (moderate amounts) is fine for breakfast. All yogurts are good breakfast foods. Plain yogurt that has fresh fruit and table sugar added is best.
Some children are not hungry or are too concerned about vomiting on the bus, or even too rushed to eat before leaving the house. For these kids a “take along meal” like fruit, string cheese and whole wheat crackers will help get the day started.
Some schools are wisely beginning to restrict what the young kids bring for snacks. At least one of the snack times in school should be limited to “healthy” unprocessed food. Fruits, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts are good examples. (Nuts and raw carrots and grapes that are uncut should not be given before age 4 because of danger of choking.)
Lunch and Dinner
It is very important that parents be aware of what their kids are being served at school. No matter how careful we are about food at home, our kids are consuming unacceptable diets at school. This is a battle that can only be won by parental involvement in planning school lunch menus.
Lunches and dinners should be made of high quality food. The most satisfying foods that keep a child comfortable until the next scheduled meal or snack are the ones that have high protein content, starches that are full of fiber and some fat, preferably “healthy” oils. This list of course includes fish, poultry, and meats, low fat milk products, brown rice and whole wheat bread, cereal and crackers. In addition there is a whole category of food that fit this description…legumes.
These include all beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans and chickpeas. Legumes are high in fiber and protein and they have high quality oils, and vitamins and minerals. Chickpeas make a great snack food that is really food. Green beans, Snap peas, pea soup, baked beans, bean soups and lentil soup are all good legume foods.
Natural peanut butter which is made of only peanuts and salt, is a very good legume food for the child who is not allergic to peanuts. (The oil must be mixed in when the jar is opened.) It is much better in quality than hydrogenated peanut butter. Peanut butter should be spread on something and covered with a “lid” since it can cause choking if eaten straight. A natural peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread with a glass of low fat milk is a very nourishing meal. (Far better than low fiber bread and Skippy with a box drink!)
Besides legumes, olives and avocados are full of a very healthy nourishing type of oil. Corn in any form is a tasty food that has oil and starch and a small amount of fiber. All nuts and seeds in all forms are very nourishing for kids age 4 and up.
Refined white flour found in most breads and pasta and white potatoes are OK, but they tend to cause the child to be hungry much sooner than the high fiber starches such as whole wheat, brown rice, sweet potatoes and squash. There is new pasta called Barilla Plus that contains legume flour and is much more nourishing and filling than regular pasta. Of course most meals and snack should have fruits and vegetables added.
Drinks are very important. Most calories consumed as liquid are not noticed by the brain’s satisfaction center. For this reason juices, which are full of sugar, should be limited to one glass a day, and the rest of the day the child should drink milk (about three glasses a day) and lots of water or seltzer. Sodas and box drinks along with candy and other treats are only for weekend parties or special occasions.
Our children grow up eating what we give them. We do not have to be completely at the mercy of what is fashionable. Just because processed and packaged foods are available and convenient does not compel us to buy them. Let’s go back to plain old basics. We can reverse the obesity epidemic in our community. Shopping, eating, snacking and drinking habits can be changed. We must think about it. It is our responsibility as parents to be aware of the long range health consequences of consuming the foods we are offering to our families.