Food glorious food, is it our friend or our enemy? I get it that eating good food is an immensely pleasurable experience, but when a dance teacher told me recently that she had seven children with cancer in her little dance school it got me thinking about the food habits that we pass on to our children; As I spend so much of my time teaching about healthy food I meet many mums who tell me their children have developed bad habits surrounding food. We all know the well-publicised facts that Ireland has experienced a significant increase in obesity among children and adolescents in recent decades. Excess weight in childhood can have serious health consequences both in childhood and later life. We all want our kids to have a healthy diet, but I am more than aware of how picky and difficult kids can be when it comes to mealtimes. As a mother of three, I know only too well the increasing temptations our children face with sugar-laden soft drinks, sugary cereals, fast food, sweets and vending machine offering so-called ‘treats’. The food we eat has an important impact on how we feel, as eating habits have the power to create health or destroy it. Foods are the body's major source of nutrients and we must obtain these essential nutrients from our foods if we want to support the body's basic needs and functions. As my mother would say as she stuffed cabbage into me as a child “If you don’t eat well, you won’t live well.” Naturally, we pay little attention to our health when it is good, but when illness arises it soon becomes very clear that we need to change the foods we eat. Then we make promises that we will be “good” but sometimes these promises are short lived. In most instances, we get sick from lifestyle related diseases. Lifestyle choices also have a direct influence on our immune system. If we become complacent and cut corners with our health, how long will it take before the body decides its payback time? The questions to be asked are these shortcuts proving to be a menace to our health and that of our children? Or more importantly, what will the consequences of these short-sighted decisions be? [caption id="attachment_606" align="aligncenter" width="500"] I keep my fridge at home packed with vibrant, fresh, organic produce so that the family can make healthy food choices[/caption] I know it’s not always easy to get the balance right, especially if you work long hours and are trying to juggle work and family commitments. If you are working and looking after a family, reaching for a less than healthy option often become the reality. Preparing the healthy option usually gets shoved down the list of priorities. Despite the fact that it is vitally important to sustain our children’s health there is nothing like the pressures of work and family to make you break all the rules of healthy living. Yes its difficult, especially if you are battling between the stove and Lego, but that’s family life nowadays; we are always on the run. If we want to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, early-onset diabetes ADHD and lifestyle related cancers in our children and teens we need to encourage healthy eating habits from the beginning. If your cupboards are full of junk food 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. Producing family-friendly healthy recipes has become a passion for me. I have taught in schools to children, teens and parents about the foods best able to promote children’s health. In fact with the arrival of my first grandchild, Ella, who has changed the course of my life in many wonderful ways, and the numerous mums who have sent so many photos of their kids drinking green juice, munching sprouts and even drinking wheat grass, it has fuelled my passion all the more. I feel blessed to be able to help these mums build strong, healthy bodies and improve the foods their children eat in the home and at school. [caption id="attachment_605" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Baby Ella trying Alfalfa sprouts[/caption] It's easy to get children to eat healthily if you know how, and what better way to do this than making your own delicious, nutritious snacks. I became quite sneaky with my teenagers and managed to sneak in quite a lot of healthy stuff into meals in not-too-obvious ways, which was a necessary strategy which helped them adjust. I used this tactic with my teenagers rather than doing battle every night of the week, and it worked. I added essential fats to smoothies and mashed potatoes, spinach and probiotics into smoothies and all kinds of veggies to juices without complaint. This simple tactic changed the way they ate. Needs must! Ideally, it’s better to set a good example as parents are their child’s greatest role model, and they depend on you to provide a healthy attitude towards food. I am a massive believer that the essential ingredient for good health is education. It helps you make informed decisions, but this does not always work with a fussy toddler or grumpy teenager. Your efforts to improve their health may cause conflict at meal times. [caption id="attachment_603" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Julie pictured aged 8 and age 21 still enjoying her daily juices[/caption] My greatest joy was with our then five-year-old daughter Julie, who was still at an age where it was easy to influence her eating habits. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and I encouraged her all the way. I taught her which foods helped the different parts of her body, as she whisked a sauce or stirred a pot. We found lots of products that were good alternatives: for example, for cow’s milk, we substituted rice or almond milk. Sugar we substituted with stevia, and dairy butter with almond or hazelnut butter. Julie is now 21 years old, her slim figure, long shiny hair and glowing skin say it all. Her health on the inside shines on the outside. If I can do it, so can you. Try making your own crisps, they really are delicious. If this sounds difficult or time-consuming well, believe me, you don’t need to be a master chef by any stretch. They are packed with flavour and will be enjoyed by all. You will need to invest in a small dehydrator, which is an inexpensive food-drying machine. I promise, it is worth the investment for the crisps alone. It’s so economical to make your own nutritious snacks, and there are no added preservatives or harmful oils used in the process. You can also make, biscuits, crackers and main meals that will produce satisfying, tasty, and enzyme-rich foods for yourself and your family. If you want something nutritious to satisfy the munchies, these crisps will do the trick. They are great for kid’s lunchboxes and perfect afterschool snacks for picky eaters that may otherwise turn their noses up at veggies. Get the kids to pitch in with a helping hand making these crisps – remember, kids always feel so proud of what they have made themselves, and it’s a great time to fill them in on little bits of information about the foods they are eating. It also gets them in the habit of eating healthily early. Put the crisps in a bowl in an accessible spot, you will find sneaky hands soon gobble them up. I usually make a few trays of kale crisps over the weekend hoping they will last the week, but my gang soon demolish the lot. Best of luck!!!