Investing in children’s health

It is all too common these days to hear about obese children being diagnosed with diabetes and other diseases associated with a poor diet and lifestyle. We are just coming out of a period in which we several million of the last generation of kids were raised to be sick. At home and at school they were constantly offered sugary drinks and high-calorie, low-nutrient processed snacks, day after day, year after year. Instead of spending their free time outside, in the sun and the fresh air, they stayed indoors, ruining their eyesight by staring at screens in pitch-dark rooms, sacrificing their sleep for a few more rounds of an online game.

It is easy to blame these people for their sickness. We are all ultimately responsible for our decisions. Some of this group realized where their lives were going and turned themselves around, joining the gym and changing their eating habits. However, we should not be blaming kids for decisions which, often they did not make, or which were made from poor options (Coke or Pepsi? Ranch or Guacamole?) If anyone is to blame for the way these kids turned out as they entered adulthood, it is the generation that raised them – disinterested, lazy and ignorant, obsessed with themselves to the point where they neglected to raise their own children.

As our society now faces the task of trying to reverse the damage done by raising a generation of unhealthy kids, we have become acutely aware of what needs to change: kids need to eat more healthily and they need to get enough exercise. The big question these days, is how exactly to go about it.

Firstly, let’s look at food. What’s good for kids isn’t all that different from what’s good for adults. If you are eating well, and you share meals with your children, they’re almost certainly eating well, too. There are, however, differences in the amounts of certain vitamins, carbohydrates, fat, protein and minerals that children need. This is due to the fact that their bodies are still developing and growing, whereas our adult bodies are already fully grown.

Seafood, lean meat and poultry are good, typical sources of protein. You can also add to the amount of protein consumed by consuming eggs, nuts, beans, peas and soy products.

The best way for a child to get the natural sugars they need, plus a large dose of the vitamins needed to live a healthy life, is through eating a variety of fresh fruit.  This is also a good source of fiber. If there is some reason they can’t eat as much fresh fruit as hoped, canned or dried fruits make a good second best. Don’t bother with most of the commercially available fruit juices off of the shelf. They usually contain lots of added sugar and too little actual juice. If you want to make juice, however, that is fine – preparing a combination of fruit juice with less popular vegetables, such as broccoli or carrots, is a good way to ensure children enjoy their drink without losing vitamins.

As with fruit, fresh vegetables are the best type to consume. Try to serve up a balance between greens, reds, beans and peas. Be aware that frozen vegetables may contain more sodium than necessary (in order to enhance flavor).

When choosing cereal, bread and other grains, go for whole grains. For sandwiches it’s often not too difficult to get kids to eat wholegrain bread if the filling looks is delicious. Many kids will turn their nose up at wholegrain cereal. If yours are struggling, try adding fruit and berries to the cereal to give it more sweetness and variety in flavors.

Fat isn’t the demon we once considered it to be. It is, actually an essential part of a healthy diet. Still, the focus needs to be on not consuming too much of it. It’s okay to serve milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products – just go for the low fat options.

The food you need to look out for and restrict, is anything with added sugars or saturated fats. Fruit contains plenty enough natural sugar, and we can get all the fat we need from lean meat, seafood and pulses. Be careful with red meat and full-fat dairy products, as these are usually high in saturated fats.