By: Julie Mancuso, JM Nutrition
Although not the only influence on the development of the eating habits of their children, parents are by far the biggest influence, especially early on in life. Being impressionable, children eat what they see others eat. If they are repeatedly exposed to certain foods for a good part of their childhood, chances are the same foods will form the foundation of their diet in adulthood. For this reason, it is critical that parents make healthy food choices, if not for themselves, then for the future health of their kids.
So where do you start? What foods should you avoid giving to your children? Here’s some help.
Macaroni and Cheese
The ever-popular staple of kids, teens and cash-strapped college students, mac n’ cheese is unfortunately a far cry from a healthy meal.
If you value your health in the slightest, buy some pasta and sauce, spend some time cooking it yourself, and serve it to your children. This way you have some control of the ingredients that go into your little one’s meal.
Fruit snacks, fruit rolls, and fruit-like candy needs to be stricken from your grocery list once and for all. These children’s snacks are little bundles of junk sold under the banner of the word ‘fruit’ which, to some parents, equates to ‘healthy’. Unfortunately, the mentioned fruit snacks are a far cry from being a healthy food.
Most fruit snacks of this nature are brimming with sugar, corn syrup and all sorts of additives and artificial flavours—none of which are good for your children.
Don’t get fooled by the claims of added Vitamin C either, as the health hazards far outweigh any of the benefits, and as such, should not be given to your children.
A good alternative to such snacks is a piece of fruit such as an apple sprinkled with cinnamon. And if you need to add more Vitamin C to your child’s diet then you can simply turn to oranges and they will do the trick.
The main problem with the cheese string—one of the children’s all-time favourite go-to snacks—is that it often isn’t made of cheese, but a cheese product (read: processed cheese, or in layperson’s terms, not real cheese).
Even if you happen to find cheese strings made with real cheese, it is likely that these also contain emulsifiers, food colouring, perhaps dairy substitutes, sometimes even sugar—all ingredients your kids don’t need to be consuming on a daily basis.
What about their nutrition benefits?
Besides calcium and a little protein, there is not much to speak of in terms of nutrition value. Both, calcium and protein can be easily obtained via other common sources: broccoli contains a high amount of the former, while chicken—a lean and healthy meat—carries a good amount of the latter.
Look out for the Cheese String’s cousin, the Singles Slices, which are equally unhealthy and to be avoided.
The sodium content in these slices is much too high, while vitamins are virtually non-existent.
And as far as taste is concerned, do the Singles Slices actually taste like real cheese? I certainly don’t think so. If you really must have cheese, buy the real stuff, slice it up for your kids, and leave the slices on the grocery store fridge shelf.
If you’re concerned about calcium and its intake is an absolute must, plenty of other means of getting the required calcium exist. Read more here.
Peddled by commercial ads and by the sports industry as the quick energy fix for athletes, energy or sports drinks are enormously overhyped. It pains me to see ten year old children gulping down these sugar-bombs like they have just run a marathon and in a desperate need of electrolytes.
Here’s where I think the adults need to step in and explain to our impressionable children that their favourite athletes are paid hockey bags of money to advertise these monstrosities with little regard for the health of others. And just because you’re a young hockey, soccer or football player doesn’t mean you have to chug sugar-laden sports drinks after every practice or game just because you see your favourite athlete do so on television.
Loaded with spoonfuls of sugar and virtually no nutritional value, the vast majority of sports drinks should be avoided—much like soda should be.
Unless your children run for hours on end in oppressive heat, losing the much-needed electrolytes by the bucketful and facing severe dehydration, avoid feeding them sports drinks. Running around a soccer field for 60 or 90 minutes does not justify the gulping down of an energy drink afterwards, at least in the vast majority of cases.
And if you feel your child needs his or her electrolytes to be replenished, then stick to feeding your children fruit or consider buying an electrolyte replacement powder that contains no sugar and no artificial sweeteners. Simply mix a scoop of this powder in a glass or bottle of water, and you have the perfect, healthy electrolyte drink without the sugar overload.
Orange and Apple Juice
Did I just read that orange and apple juice are not healthy? In a way, yes. But let me explain.
First, let me emphasize that eating a whole orange or an apple is a much healthier choice than drinking juice from these fruits. Always!
Second, both juices contain essential vitamins and minerals, so they’re not bad. The problem, however, lies in the fact that many orange and apple juices are extremely high in sugar—some with added sugar, not too dissimilar to soda. In addition, these juices are low in fibre, unlike the fruit itself, which doesn’t help digestion. Worse still, some juices contain added flavours, which are a far cry from fruit in its natural form.
So next time you’re thinking of putting a juice box in your child’s lunch bag, take a look at the ingredients and analyze carefully. Not all of them are created equally. Some are lower in sugar whereas others are brimming with it.
To be safe, I highly recommend replacing these drinks with juice in its natural form, low in sugar and one that contains no additives.
When in doubt, drink water, perhaps with a twist of lemon if plain water just doesn’t cut it.
Remember that children may find these changes difficult at first, but things will get easier with time, and eventually, they will get used to the healthier options.
For more detailed information, read this article from Authority Nutrition: Fruit Juice is Just as Unhealthy as a Sugary Drink.
For many people the word granola evokes images of a fit and healthy adult biting into a granola bar on a hike up a rugged mountain. It’s because of images like this that we assume that granola bars are a healthy snack full of nutrients that will help our children grow into healthy adults. And for this reason we freely pack these convenient snacks in our children’s school lunch bags.
This, unfortunately, is the wrong move.
Most granola bars on the market contain a number of unhealthy ingredients, not the least of which is sugar—found in high amounts, sometimes almost as high as in your average chocolate bar. So much for the health claims.
After consuming these sugar, er granola, bars, all your children are going to experience is a sugar high followed by a swift crash.
Read more on the dangers of sugar here.
Although healthier granola bar options exist—something that parents need to investigate in the interest of our children’s health—it’s best to give them a pass when you’re not sure what to look for.
Here she goes again harping on cereal…
Although it may seem that I’m picking on cereal, as I frequently encourage people to choose alternative meals for breakfast, I do so with good reason.
It is now common knowledge that sugar is unhealthy, even dangerous when consumed frequently and in larger quantities. It is also making people gain weight and this includes our children.
We ingest sugar in our morning coffee, in sodas and juices, in our desserts, in salad dressings, in condiments, in processed foods, and in cereal.
Although some healthy, low-sugar cereals exist, they are few and far between. Most contain too much sugar. If you find sugar near the top of the ingredients’ list, it’s found in considerable amounts and should be avoided.
To add fuel to this fire, many cereals, especially the ones for children, are made from refined grains.
And why are refined grains unhealthy?
Well, they are starchy, low in fibre, contain additives, colouring and flavourings, and are generally devoid of many nutrients.
This unhealthy alliance of sugar and refined grains is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the health of our children, and has been steadily contributing to the obesity epidemic and poor digestion.
Select your cereal wisely: low in sugar, with limited additives, unprocessed, high in fibre and lower in calories.
Much better breakfast and snack options exist that are just as easily and quickly put together.
Related: Five Breakfast Ideas for Champions.
Since we, as adults, have an undeniably massive influence on our children in many ways, including the ever-important eating habits, we must be aware of the food choices we make because they not only affect our health, but the health of our children. And since children need our guidance in selecting which foods to buy and eat, in order to grow up healthy, we must remain strong and resist the temptation of purchasing the unhealthy, convenient foods as much as possible.
Parents, the ball is in your court.
Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic Toronto nutritionist who has been counseling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2018 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.