"Just let them have their treats, it won'thurt them, it's a party," says the motheras she qualifies her stance, or is it a lack of stance,on the sugar and additive laden food and drink beingconsumed by her child, who is far too young to knowbetter than to eat the rubbish he or she is being allowedto demolish.
"And it's not what they eat all the time,is it?" Mum added, feeling the need to fortifyher position. Given that I hadn't actually mentionedthe food, I can only assume that there was a fair amountof guilt behind her early offensive tactic. My realquandary with such logic is that given the overt sociallives that kids seem to have these days, birthday partiescan be almost a weekly event. Add to this the many sweet"treats" that avail themselves in numeroussituations (such as when out shopping, visiting friendsand family, on holidays, at school) as bribes to eatthe good stuff by frustrated parents and at so manyother times, and the treat is no longer just a treatbut has become a diet.I started educating my kids early with a sound nutritionalunderstanding of the foods that they are given at homeand why such foods are good for them, along with anidea of the foods that they may encounter at partiesand why they are best avoided or at least restricted.
I now tend not to be too concerned about how they willrespond when confronted by unhealthy food choices. Myfour year old daughter will usually sample one chip,a lolly and a bite of a cupcake before heading for somefruit and cheese or a sandwich. Her preferred liquidtreat is a little box of vegetable juice.
The reality is that for many kids, their diets arenot compromised at the occasional function, but insteadare fed a steady stream of sugar-laden, overly refined,additive stuffed foods. The impacts that such foodshave on the health and behaviour of kids can be profound,with their potential for health, happiness and educationseverely compromised.
The answer is education – not just for the parents,but also for the kids. Taking some level of responsibilityfor their own wellbeing is not a confusing concept tokids and, when given a little knowledge, they can bothsurprise and impress with their willingness to do theright thing for themselves.
Get the kids involved and be a bit creative and adventurousin preparing food for the young ones. It just takesa little thought, a pen and some paper, and you cancreate a list of favourites and fallback options. Sandwichesare a great place to start. They can either be terriblynutritious or just plain terrible. The concept of givingchildren white bread is a nonsensical and antiquatedone, and the myth that kids won't eat fibrousor grainy bread is merely a result of conditioning throughbehaviour. If all you have ever given children is whitebread then that is how they will believe bread shouldbe and thus, of course, they will be resistant to thehealthier alternatives. And then what do you put inthe bread? Spot the difference – do you send yourchildren to school with white bread with margarine jamor vegemite, or sprouted wholegrain bread with avocado,tomato, cheese and chicken? Such a meal can be the differencebetween feeling refreshed, energetic and attentive afterlunch as opposed to feeling sluggish and tired.
Another similar balanced and simple option for thelunchbox is to just spread the bread with a little butterand have some cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, cheeseand a chicken drumstick. My favourite for a kids mealor snack, however, is the vegie patty. Simply mix gratedcarrot, zucchini and cheese with chopped cabbage andcapsicum, a blob of tomato paste, 1-2 eggs and a heapeddessertspoon of wholemeal flour, and you have a deliciousand nutritious mix ready for a quick sizzle in the pan.Chopped meats can be added, whatever –these areultimately changeable and, with a few herbs and spicesin the mix or a little tomato sauce on the side, theycan really boost a kid's vegie intake. And theyare perfect for lunchboxes.
Time is often short for parents these days as theyrush to feed themselves and the kids, and preparationof the school lunchbox can suffer. This is why a listof recipes and snack options can prove an invaluabletimesaver with healthy benefits. Getting vegies intokids is often a challenge for many parents, and anotherreal hit loved by the budding gourmet kid can be toput together a simple selection of capsicum, carrot,celery and cherry tomatoes with a little container ofhealthy hummus dip. Having on hand a mix of almonds,prunes, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, with a fewsultanas thrown in, can also serve as a highly nutritioussnack that is easily added to the lunchbox, althoughit is necessary to check with schools to see if theyhave a no nuts policy due to the increasing incidenceof severe nut allergies. Other quick and health snacksinclude wholegrain crackers, oatbran muffins, mini yoghurtsand, of course, fruit – all low GI and thus goodsources of slow release energy. So, get your child involvedin making better choices and reap the rewards of a healthierfamily.
Jeremy Hill (Diploma of Natural Therapy) is a QualifiedNaturopath