Pizza, fried chicken strips, grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and hamburgers are just a few of the most popular items found on kids menus across America. As a family physician and mother of two (ages 6 and 7) my husband and I chose long ago to ban the kids menu. It’s important for both parents and children to look beyond the taste factor, and work to make decisions based on nutrition and giving our bodies the fuel they needs to function properly.
Food is our source of energy that fuels all that we do. Our bodies are amazingly adaptable to using the fuel they are given, but there are definite differences in the quality of foods we eat and how they affect our bodies. Poor nutrition can contribute to sleep difficulties, fatigue, behavioral problems, short attention span, and hyperactivity. In the long term, poor nutrition can lead to obesity, childhood hypertension, over diagnosis of ADHD and poor school performance. Over time it also sets children up for poor habits in adulthood that can lead to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and more.
Major food companies and advertising agencies do a great job of marketing to families and children. However, many products are misrepresented – claiming they are “made with real fruit” or “whole grains.” If you look beyond the flashy packaging, you’ll frequently find high sugar content and other unwholesome ingredients. Because of this, it’s important to pay close attention to food labels and work with our children to do the same.
For example, my daughter recently asked me to buy fruit snacks at the store. I had her look at the label and decide if fruit snacks were the best option to include in her school lunch. She looked at the back of the box and recognized the second ingredient was high fructose corn syrup, followed by artificial coloring and a long list of words she didn’t recognize. She placed it back on the shelf concluding that apple slices would be a healthier option for her lunches. This made me proud – proud that she came to this conclusion herself, and proud that she had the tools to understand how to make good choices.
So, as parents, what should we look for when purchasing healthy foods?
- Look for foods rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and essential nutritional building blocks like protein.
- You get the most “bang for your buck” with whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats.
- Sugars and refined grains should be limited. They lack nutritional content and can have unfavorable hormonal and health effects when consumed in high quantities. Avoid unbalanced carbohydrate loaded meals such as macaroni and cheese, pasta, cereal, toast, waffles, etc.
- Avoid unhealthy fats from overdoing fried foods, cheese, creams, chips, pastries, and processed red meat. Instead, aim to add healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil and fish.
As a family physician, my colleagues and I frequently focus on preventive care, as we believe that prevention is a powerful tool in health, wellness and longevity. As a parent, modeling a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and teaching your children to make good dietary choices are some of the most meaningful and lasting gifts you can provide for your children. They are habits that will serve them well now and throughout their lives.
Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Coeur d’Alene Residency offers both group lectures and individual appointments to discuss childhood nutrition. For more information, contact their office at (208) 625-6000.