I woke up this morning to a lovely message about my granddaughter and I began to think how lucky I was to live to see and hear the little stories and joys in her life. I thought of my own three children and how grateful I am for them in my life. They are my friends, a great support to me and the best huggers a mammy could want. I am beyond proud of them, but getting them on board with a healthy lifestyle has been a struggle over the years. In fact, I was surprised by how stuck in their ways they actually were. When I was diagnosed with cancer for a second time, I wanted to improve not just my own health but also the health of my husband and children. When you learn about the dangers that eating certain foods can bring and how those foods can escalate health problems, you want to do what you can to avoid them. Every parent wants to provide the best for their children but I can tell you my efforts were not met with open arms. Sometimes when I talk to people, I realise that we share the same problems and are faced with the same struggles. None of us are alone in trying to get our family members to improve their health. It is something that many of us struggle with – the fussy toddler, a grumpy teenager, even the husband or wife who is set in their ways. Recently Edel a young mother, who attended one of my lectures, rang me. She was concerned about the long-term consequences of the sugars her children were eating. She had made great strides when she started juicing and they were now taking the freshly made vegetable juices each day. Change creates its own momentum and for Edel that one change had paved the way for another and she wanted to do more. I always say it’s better to make one change than to do nothing at all. Encouraged by this victory she explained that she wanted to eliminate sugar from their diets. I told her it would not be an easy task as sugar triggers production of natural opioids in your brain, this results in the brain sending out reward signals whenever you eat something with sugar in it, this then overrides the bodies self-control mechanisms so they become addicted. She explained she was trying her best but with play dates, birthday parties and treats at every occasion it all mounts up. However her children were 5 and 3 years so they were still at an age where it was easy to influence their eating habits. Young children have fewer preconceived notions about food than adults, although they are being brainwashed by advertising. The fast food industry alone spends millions per year on marketing that is aimed solely at children. Hopefully we will have some sort of initiative in the near future to stop this ruthless marketing to young children. We intuitively know it’s not good for us, let alone for our children. Here are a few tips that I recommended she get started with.
Clear out the fridge and cupboards of all processed foods, this means that the kids and you are eating healthily by default as there are no treats or junk food in the house to munch on. Remember if your cupboards are full of bickies, cakes, and crisps that they can snack on, then that is exactly what will happen. A fussy toddler sometimes needs to be hungry in order to eat proper meals. Toss away the foods that are unhealthy especially the foods they crave. If a food item can last more than two weeks outside the refrigerator, you have every right to be suspicious of its nutrient content. Once the house is cleared make sure you don’t re-introduce any junk food into your home when shopping. No matter how much they nag, stick to your guns.
- Do A Clear Out
I suggest you focus on the foods kids can eat (as opposed to what they can’t). This simple tactic will change the way kids eat and give them a healthy attitude towards food. Fruit and vegetables are always the best choice, so every time they fancy a piece of chocolate or have cravings for sweets, give them healthy treats to exchange for the ones they normally like. Swap sweet treats for fresh fruit to satisfy those inevitable sugar cravings. Fruit is a great way to curb an appetite for sweets because not only will it provide fibre and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it helps with sugar cravings. Switch fizzy drinks for fruit water. With up to 8 teaspoons of sugar in a single can of cola, fizzy drinks you can imaging the negative effects to your health. Sugar interferes with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and protein along with a myriad of other serious health risks for you and your children. Why not drop a few pieces of fruit, such as strawberries, or slices of lemon or orange into a glass of water can make for an equally sweet and refreshing drink. I have tried this with my granddaughter and it works a treat. Have healthy snacks to hand so you won’t be tempted to give in to nagging for treats, berries, nut butter spread on sliced apple or an oat cake topped with hummus.
- Smart Swaps
It’s important that we eat a variety of food of different colours, such as apples, tomatoes, sweet red and yellow peppers, carrots, berries. The red pigment in red fruits and vegetables are coloured by a natural plant pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that promotes health. Carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins contain compounds called carotenoids that aid in maintaining good vision health. Make a rainbow chart on the wall that has the days of the week. When they eat foods of different colours give them a sticker for the chart. This will get them excited about eating foods that are loaded with antioxidants, it will also help them acquired a taste for fresh nutrient-rich foods.
- Eat from the rainbow
Don’t get disheartened if you encounter some difficulties; instead of taking a firm stance and battling every day of the week with children, get them involved in some task when you are preparing a meal or snack, for example washing veggies, whisking a sauce or stirring a pot. They are far more likely to eat something that they have helped to make and it’s a great time to fill them in on little bits of information about the foods they are eating. It’s also good training. Children are much more adventurous with food when they prepare it themselves. Get them a little chef’s apron and a hat to make it as much fun as possible.
- Stay Strong
Try your best not to offer sugary treats as rewards. It’s a trap that most of us fall into, it's very tempting for we parents to offer "treats” as a rewards or bribes for good behaviour. Most kids won’t turn down a sweet treat and they will almost certainly develop a preference for sweet foods instead of healthier foods that’s going to nourish their bodies. We are well aware that there are many drawbacks to kids eating these foods, tooth decay, weight gain, hyperactivity, difficulty in concentration, crankiness, an unhealthy relationship with junk foods. It is we the adults that give them sweets as rewards so we can just as easily offer a trip to the library or park, a play date or sleepover with a friend or stickers or colouring books. Being told that they can indulge in foods that are bad for them as a reward for doing something good sends mixed messages to a child. Then when we hold back on those special treats as a means of punishment it further confuses the child. Now I am not a complete spoilsport, it’s OK to have an occasional treat. Kid-friendly treats like popcorn at the movies or frozen fruit ice pops are nice healthy treats on a hot sunny day can work well. Reserve desserts for special occasions or start off with a weekend treat it will reduce the amounts they consume.
- No sugary treats as rewards.
Try to educate and encourage children. Instil in children an appreciation for foods that will nourish their bodies and make them big and strong. Remember you are their role model they will model your behaviour so make healthy eating a priority. I know you might want to avoid the tantrums or “falling out” that may ensue but it’s up to you to set a good example for your kids. Building an understanding fosters awareness and responsibility and you are giving them a great foundation to eat healthier and make the new habits stick. Talk to them about how they feel when they eat sugary foods. Discuss whether it made them feel unwell, tired, or cranky. Children need to understand and recognise these feelings so that they can communicate themselves and so they know what the consequences are of overeating sugary foods. It may not be easy initially but it will pay off in the long run with strong healthy children. The very best of luck, I know sugar is a tough one!!!
- Big and Strong