Our bodies (and our children’s bodies) are incredibly complex structures, requiring far better nutrition than most Americans recognize. Sadly, even moms and dads who think they are feeding their families nutritious diets are often fooled by the “healthy” labels on foods that barely meet minimal standards to qualify for that seal of approval. I’m guilty of falling for that clever marketing, particularly when my family’s hectic schedules beg for convenience foods. But I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my family’s energy level, attention span, attitude and general health since adding a dash of discernment to our menu selections.
As a general rule, experts advise that we get back to the basics. The less processed and more natural our food, the better suited it is for our bodies. I’ve become particularly cautious of foods that have artificial colors, chemicals (particularly those I have trouble pronouncing), and high levels of sugar, sodium, and fat. These ingredients have been frequently targeted as culprits behind misbehavior in the classroom, lack of energy on the ball field, irritability, figity-ness, and hyperactivity. (Of course, if your child exhibits any of these behaviors, particularly for an extended period of time, it’s important to consult with their doctor for a more complete assessment).
Our bodies and minds need to be fed wholesome and nutritious food throughout the day to keep us fueled and focused from dawn till dusk. To complicate matters, some bodies are allergic or sensitive to certain foods. So, while I have a few ideas to get you thinking, I encourage you to do a little research or meet with a nutritionist to create a diet that is ideal for for each member of your family.
- BREAKFAST IS CRITICAL After 8-10 hours of no food, our bodies NEED fuel to get up, go and think. PopTarts, sugary cereals and donuts are not going to cut it. Sugars (simple carbohydrates) are used up quickly in our systems, often leaving our bodies even more depleted than before we ate. To begin the day strong, fueled and focused, we need a well-rounded breakfast. Some of my family’s favs: plain oatmeal or hot cereal made with milk and topped with fruit, natural peanut butter on wheat toast, or scrambled eggs on a whole grain English muffin. Do you notice the theme? Simple and complex carbohydrates paired with proteins are a winning combination.
- KEEP THE WATER FLOWING. Our bodies are made up of roughly 75% water. Water is essential for the digestion of food, transportation of nutrients, elimination of wastes, and a host of other metabolic functions. And when we are not hydrated enough, it can interfere with moods, energy, attentions span and a laundry list of other health issues. So, drink up! To help, I make sure my kids carry a bottle of water to school every day, drink water routinely throughout the day, and drink a glass of water before offering juice at mealtime.
- SNACK ALL DAY LONG To maintain energy, brain power and emotional stability all the day long, make sure small snacks (containing carbs and protein) are eaten throughout the day. Note: a package of gummy fruit snacks “fortified with Vitamin C” or a “kid friendly” yogurt in a tube may seem like healthy options, BUT check the label. Sure, they may be healthier than a candy bar or a handful of cookies, but NOT by much! Remember, the goal is not to fill the tummy: it’s to fuel the brain and body!
- THINK NATURAL: Make the switch from processed to natural foods more fun by enlisting your kids in the gathering of colorful fruits and veggies from produce displays, nuts and trail mixes from bulk barrels, and wholesome wheat crackers and breads to be paired with cheese or topped with almond butter. Other possible favorites:
- hard boiled eggs
- homemade granola
- tortilla roll ups with a layer of refried beans or cream cheese and veggies
- ants on a log made with natural peanut butter
Our hectic schedules often have us dining on-the-go, but when hasty eating leads to compromises in nutrition, our bodies suffer and we often see “problem behaviors” skyrocket in our kids. To help your body keep up the demands placed on it, be sure to give it the complete nutrition, rest and exercise it truly needs.
For additional reading on healthy eating, please visit Web-MD:
Child Nutrition and Shopping Tips for Busy Moms: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/child-nutrition-shopping-tips
Simple Healthy Snacks for Kids: http://children.webmd.com/child-nutrition-8/simple-sweet-snacks