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Nutrition for Today's Children

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For parents and children, September is much like New Yearâ??s. The start of the school year presents new challenges, adventures and opportunities. Itâ??s time for your children to hit the books again. Itâ??s also a perfect time to brush up on your healthy shopping habits.

For parents and children, September is much like New Year’s. The start of the school year presents new challenges, adventures and opportunities. It’s time for your children to hit the books again. It’s also a perfect time to brush up on your healthy shopping habits.

Our focus as parents should be to reduce processed food, eliminate unwanted additives and increase the nutritional value of our daily fare. So how do we get started in a world where our main source of nutritional information is advertising? Get simple–a few basic rules will go a long way–and be patient!

Avoid Processed Foods

White bread, white pasta, white rice, cookies, chips, boxed cereals ...much of the food we consume is processed. Food processing reduces overall nutritional value, particularly vitamin and mineral content, and leaves us with foods relatively high in calories and low in nutrients. In addition, processed foods often contain hydrogenated fats as well as refined sugar and flour. Hydrogenated fats have been found to damage cellular membranes–a very important consideration for growing children. Refined sugar and flour stress the metabolism, disrupt digestion and wreak havoc in the brain.

Watch For Food Additives

Read labels carefully and avoid ingredients with a "chemical name." A number of additives are used to increase shelf life, enhance flavour and improve appearance and texture. Many of these additives (see box) contribute to fuzzy thinking, poor complexion, early sexual maturation and hyperactive behaviour, among other problems.

Get Fresh

Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grain products, and on freshness and quality. Food in its natural, unrefined state contains the valuable nutrients, including live enzymes and fibre, necessary for playing, learning and growing.

Eating whole grains, local fruits and vegetables and inexpensive root crops (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots) as nourishing staples also greatly reduces costs. Save money further by shopping at farmers’ markets and local farms and by buying in bulk when warranted.

Go Organic

To avoid chemical residues, consider organically grown products. They are also picked when ripe and at peak nutritional content. Use caution with genetically modified products–there’s no scientific evidence to suggest they contain the same food value as conventional products or that the process of modification doesn’t have long-term health effects. Purchase organic eggs from local producers whenever possible.

Shop Selectively

The old recommendation to shop the sides and avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket is a good one. Health food stores are particularly good sources of healthy snacks, pure juices and lunchables. They are also a better choice for cooking oils (see box), as supermarket selections are often overly refined and contain heat-damaged trans fats.

There’s no magic nutritional bullet other than our own awareness. To promote good nutrition, parents must be vigilant and responsible, and encourage responsibility in their children. It’s important to provide a good example and make active, considered choices regarding the food we eat. Then you can give yourself high marks for giving your children the tools they need for optimum learning, growth and health.

Cooking With Oils

It is always best to eat oils in their natural, unheated form. Do not heat flax oil, walnut oil or pumpkin seed oil. If you choose to cook with oils, use extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil or butter and never heat to a smoke point.

PDF Table of Common Food Additives to Avoid

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