What is the most common nutrition issue for parents of small children?

One of most common issues seems to be what to give young children for healthy and convenient snacks that do not contain an overload of sugar. When you’re a busy parent, it really is not always easy to make sure your kids have a balanced diet, especially when you’re on the move a lot. We think that kid’s food companies are there to help us but this is not always the case. But a significant quantity of sugar can build up in a day of ‘healthy’ kid’s treats. Snacking is a tricky one to handle!

As soon as your precious bundle of joy starts to wean off the milk-truck, you want only the best food for them. So what is ‘best’? Are those fancy little packets of organic convenience foods really as good as they seem? There are a few things that are not so great about some of these ‘healthy’ kid’s snack brands. While my message is to always just eat food in its most ‘real’, unprocessed form, be aware that though something may look and sound like real food you should always read the label. You’d be surprised at what might be lurking inside! Here are some points about what to avoid:

Be wary of organic pouch and jar foods in general. There are a number of organic baby food brands out there pulling us in with buzz words like ‘organic’ and ‘no additives’ but most of these are high in sugar and low in nutrients compared to eating food in its natural state or steamed at home. For example, why buy a pouch of strawberry ‘food’ that can sit on a shelf for a few months – which is basically dead food - when you can buy beautiful fresh living strawberries full of living enzymes, vitamins and minerals fully in tact? Plus, it’s often cheaper!  I would even rather buy the non-organic fruit than buy the organic fruit pouch because you will get more nutrition value from the real deal.

If you do use the organic pouches for convenience make sure it does not form more than a small percentage of your child’s diet. Nothing can beat the quality of nutrition in a home cooked meal with steamed veggies and fresh produce.

Secondly, look out for fruit concentrate. You’ll find the word ’concentrate’ with a lot of fruit ingredients such as ‘apple concentrate’. At its core concentrate is just the sugar (or fructose) from the fruit. I have seen these ingredients in everything from kids’ health cereals to rice cracker snacks. Not only does sugar cause inflammation in the body but by giving our kids foods with sugar, we’re setting them up to crave it because it’s addictive. It’s far better to give them an apple or some berries. Although fruit still contains sugar the fibre in it slows down the body’s response to the sugar and therefore the body deals with it in a far healthier way.

My child is a fussy eater, how to I encourage them to eat a wide variety of healthy food?

Handling picky eaters who seem to hate eating vegetables is a common problem. Of course young children are finding their feet when it comes to food and taste preferences, so they will go through ‘picky eater’ stages for a few days, weeks or even months which can be frustrating.

One of the most helpful books I have ever read about parenting is one called French Kids Eat Everything - I have applied the advice in this book with my own family and I really believe there is a lot of truth in the message it offers. My top tips for picky eaters are based on this book as well as my own personal experience:

  • Reduce snacks or make them part of a meal. In my house we snack at 11am and 4pm and that is it. There is sometimes an exception to this rule with play dates or other schedule changes but when the rule is broken it nearly always affects dinner time. If a child is hungry, they are more likely to eat what you provide - simple.
  • Make meal time family time. My daughter never eats alone, either I eat with her or we eat as a family so that she learns good table manners and also sees that I enjoy my food. Meal times can be an enjoyable part of the day when shared with people. Would you want to eat alone every night?
  • Variety is key. Sometimes kids will eat broccoli and the next day they're bored of broccoli. They can be fickle as we know. If they don’t seem to want a particular veg don’t push them to eat it that day, but keep offering it. One day they are likely to change their mind. By making sure you offer an alternative and different variety each day, hopefully you can find what they like to eat.  On a side note, if my daughter will not eat what I give her, she can still eat dessert, usually fruit. However, I will never make something separate for her – she eats what we eat. I believe that by giving in to demands we may be telling children that whenever they say no, we’ll make something they ask for every time. We then aren’t encouraging them to try new foods and it becomes hard work for you. Rather, I avoid making a big deal of the situation and encourage her to eat what she likes from the plate and try again next time.
  • Ask them to help. My biggest tip to make meal times more exciting for kids is to get them involved in the cooking. Let them watch, learn, taste, stir. It’s likely that if they have a hand in making their own meal they will be more willing to taste the fruits of their labor!
     

What ingredients should we always keep in our kitchen cupboards for quick meals and tasty snacks?

Fruits, nuts, oats and avocado. You can make so many fun things with these ingredients - from energy balls to oat fingers - that literally take minutes to make and kids can get involved. Take a look at a few recipes here for ideas: www.graciouslygreen.com

Do we need to avoid sugar altogether?

I would say that refined sugar should be avoided, yes. Why? Because you will find that kids end up eating refined sugar without you even knowing in their everyday lives, eating snacks outside your home or at a friend’s house, so why add to that sugar load? I would opt for having healthier options in the house such as good-quality honey and maple syrup. The best option in my opinion is coconut sugar which, on a sugar scale of 1 – 100 in terms of how quickly the sugar increases blood sugar levels, is considered low at 35. Plus, coconut sugar is full of nutritious minerals and tastes great.

Any tips for getting more organized when it comes to planning family meals?

Plan your menu on paper or a blackboard in your kitchen and then plan your shopping list to make sure you have all you need. The menu does not need to be fancy, but it needs to work for you. This is something I help my clients with as part of my health coaching services – helping families to help themselves eat a healthy and balanced diet.

I am also a busy working mum and I don’t always have time to conjure up a four-course meal every night, which is why I have a ‘black-book’ of go-to easy recipes that I always have stock for in the house and I know will take just minutes to make. One is my tray bake balsamic roasted Mediterranean vegetables with goats’ cheese or vegan cheese, and another one is my raw vegan pesto with spelt pasta or zucchini pasta.

If we’re struggling to find the time to cook from scratch every day, what areas should we consider delegating to an expert such as yourself?

When clients come to me needing help, I teach them some basic recipes that they can always turn to when they need. As a chef at Essentially.ae, we also offer amazing, balanced nutritious and delicious meal packages that include all your meals, juices and snacks for the day, which is perfect for someone who really does not have the time or maybe the inclination to make the food himself or herself. All ingredients are high quality, organic and plant-based and the food is also super tasty!

Mia is a legal business development manager turned holistic health coach and a qualified raw & plant-based food chef at Essentially.ae. Mia also consults private clients and corporates in relation to natural health through her yoga sessions as well as offering one on one health coaching, cooking classes, health writing and, coming soon, wellness retreats. Find more at www.graciouslygreen.com 

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