By Kate Horney
I believe that healthy kids are raised by healthy moms. As parents, we play a key role in our children’s choices and behaviors.
That’s why I’m excited to have my good friend and pediatrician (plus a mom herself), Dr. Rach join us on the blog to share about some healthy habits that we can work on making a part of our children’s lifestyles.
Not sure where to start? Let’s make it easy and begin with some essential new habits that will revolutionize your children’s health.
Healthy Kids Challenge Part 1
Habit 1: Don’t Skip Breakfast
Breakfast is the way we break the body’s nightly fast and gets us prepared for a full day of school, work or play. It is how we recharge the brain and the body. Your kids will be more efficient at almost everything they do if they eat a healthy breakfast in the morning.
In 2012, The Sussex Innovation Centre in Brighton, UK released a study that found that eating breakfast improves people’s mental performance. English and mathematics test scores improved 61% for the test subjects. Hand-eye coordination was also improved. Breakfast eaters also showed a reduction in anxiety levels when faced with stressful situations.
Other studies have shown that breakfast skippers are tardy and absent from school more often than children who eat breakfast on a regular basis. Breakfast skippers are also more likely to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes.
According to the American Diabetic Association, children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- be creative
- concentrate better
- meet daily nutritional requirements
- have better problem solving skills
- have better hand-eye coordination
- be more alert
- be more physically active
So now we know that our kids need breakfast…but what are most American kids eating?
The answer is sugary breakfast cereals.
Here is a list of the Top 10 selling breakfast cereals:
Honey Nut Cheerios (32% sugar)
Frosted Flakes (38% sugar)
Honey Bunches of Oats (20% sugar)
Cheerios (5% sugar)
Cinnamon Toast Crunch (29% sugar)
Special K (13% sugar)
Frosted Mini Wheats (20% sugar)
Lucky Charms (41% sugar)
Froot Loops (41%)
Raisin Bran (31%)
A majority of these options provide a sugar overload and 42% of child targeted cereals have artificial food dyes.
So what are the options for healthy breakfasts?
Here are just a few ideas:
- Fruit and vegetable smoothies
- Eggs and with mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes
- Fruit Salad
- Oatmeal, Quinoa and Millet porridge
- Homemade granola with natural greek yoghurt
- Wholegrain toast with avocado
Commit today to make sure that your kids have a great breakfast (and make sure you do too!!)
Habit 2: Eat More Vegetables and Fruit
According to surveys done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only about 14 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables every day. It is estimated that this figure is less than 10% for children.
We seem to focus on getting certain foods out of our diets. With kids it is fun to concentrate on the positive and see how many fruits and vegetables they can get in to their diets.
So how much fruit and veggies should our kids be eating?
Here is my guide:
Age Fruit Servings Vegetable Servings
2-7 years 1-2 2-4
8-11 years 1-2 3-5
12-18 3-4 5-9
As a general rule you should eat at least twice as much vegetables as fruit.
So what constitutes a serving size?
For fruit: 1 serving size is 1 medium apple, banana or orange, or ½ cup of chopped fruit.
For vegetables: 1 cup of raw leafy greens or ½ cup of chopped vegetables.
So why do we need to eat so much plant food?
Fruit and vegetables are a great source of fiber. Fiber keeps our digestive system healthy, it regulates our blood sugars and it keeps our cholesterol levels down. Fiber has also been associated with reduced risk of cancer and a longer life expectancy. Click here to find out more about fiber.
Fruit and vegetables are rich in water soluble vitamins. These vitamins are vital for the healthy functioning of our bodies, they are powerful antioxidants and they also keep your immune system strong.
Fruit and vegetables are high in minerals. Minerals such as calcium keep bones and teeth strong, magnesium and potassium are important for muscle functioning and development and iron is need to carry oxygen around your body.
So how to I get more fruit and vegetables into my kids?
- Serve raw veggies with a yummy dip when they come home from school
- Make a fruit salad
- Add some greens to your smoothies
- Serve a salad everyday and serve it first before the rest of the meal
- Hide vegetables in your kids’ favorite foods. It is amazing how well grated zucchini can be hidden in food!!
- Eat soups loaded with yummy vegetables, you can even blend the vegetables.
- Have fruit for dessert
- Buy precut vegetables from your local supermarket if you don’t have time to prepare
- Serve in season fruit and vegetables- they taste better and are also cheaper
- Include fruit and vegetables in every meal
- Put fresh fruit and vegetables in their lunchbox everyday
- Add fruit to unsweetened greek yoghurt for breakfast or a snack
- Try different fruit and vegetables on their toast. My Family LOVES avocado toast!!
- Make a fruit and vegetable reward chart – we often get off track with our eating over the holidays, so why not reward healthy eating
Habit 3: Enjoy Family Dinner
Family life is crazy and we are often starved for family time. Taking the time to share a family meal has many benefits according to the University of Florida. Their research has shown sharing a family meal means that:
- family bonds get stronger
- kids are more well-adjusted
- everyone eats more nutritious meals
- kids are less likely to be obese or overweight
- kids are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
I recently went back to Australia for a month and one of the things I was most looking forward to was family dinner with my parents and sisters. Not just because my mum (that’s what we call moms in Australia) is an amazing cook, but because it is undistracted quality time to spend with them.
Family meal time is a an opportunity to unplug from technology and take some real time for family interactions. Family dinner can start with meal preparation, include setting the table and cleaning up together. It is a time for conversation, teaching and working together.
Research shows that these benefits are maximized when families eat together a minimum of 5 times a week. This may not be realistic for all families, but do it as much as you can. If you can’t manage dinner some nights, try breakfast, or lunch on the weekends.
Family dinner can also be a great time to meet your children’s friends, and an awesome opportunity to make friends with new families.
I found this touching comment on a blog site:
Friends and family open their homes and welcome us in. You may think the gesture of the invite is overlooked, but I can tell you I find it incredibly moving and meaningful.
Here’s what an invitation says to me:
- You are welcome in my home.
- You are welcome at my table.
- I want you to contribute and listen to conversations.
- I want you to feel like you are a part of something bigger.
- You are not alone.
These are important messages we give to our children and our friends as they participate in our family meals.
For some fun tips and advice on family dinner time see the website, The Family Dinner Project.
Habit 4: Eat Less Processed Foods
Americans on average spend 90% of their food budget on processed foods. According to the FDA, it is almost impossible to eat food without preservatives unless you exclusively eat food that you prepare yourself.
Unfortunately preservatives are not the only ingredient that we have be be cautious of in packaged food.
It is estimated that 80% of food in the supermarket has added sugar.
It is estimated that 80% of food in the supermarket has added MSG.
More than 75% of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed foods.
In addition to these nasties, The Center for Science in the Public Interest has put out a list of additives in food to avoid.
- Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin
- Food Dyes
- Mycoproteins (found in meat substitutes)
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils (trans fats)
Processed foods also tend to be empty calories. The nutrition is stripped out of these products to give them a longer shelf life.
Take up the challenge to eat more whole foods and read labels to find the processed foods that fit within your health paradigm. Make sure you check what the product has in it, not just what it doesn’t have in it. The bulk of your supermarket cart should always be filled with items from the periphery of the store. The more live food the better!!
Research has shown that SUGAR is involved in the following problems:
- Increased rate of DENTAL CAVITIES
- Decreased IMMUNE FUNCTION for several hours after consumption
- The development of TYPE 2 DIABETES, and all its associated problems such as nerve damage and cardiovascular disease
- A REDUCTION IN COGNITIVE FUNCTION, MEMORY and LEARNING CAPACITY
- CHRONIC GUT INFECTIONS due to the disruption in the gut flora
Sugar is addictive in much the same way that cigarettes are addictive. Sugar delivers a biochemical change in your child’s brain. It will make them feel momentarily uplifted due to the sugar spike….kids like that feeling, and they want it again and again. The happy feeling goes away quickly as the blood sugar levels plummet and their bodies crave that high again.
Do food companies know that sugar is addictive? Of course they do! Kids are eating food-like products that are being designed to look and smell better than ever before. Their aim is not to make healthy food, but to make food kids will be begging for.
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