Healthy Habits for Kids: Raising Healthy Eaters – How to Create a Family Food Culture by Becoming Aware
Our family food habits completely changed when my husband started his journey to lose over 100 pounds. With his new lifestyle, came a new lifestyle for the rest of the family – one where we do not eat fast food, our children consider apples and yogurt treats and where we ingredient shop labels.
How did we change our habits from fast food to healthy? Simple: awareness.
Like many modern families, we lived the fast paced, eat-on-the-run kind of lifestyle. Stopping at MacDonald’s on the way out of town was common practice for us on the way to the cabin every weekend. But when my husband decided to get healthy after our son was born, fast food was the first thing to go. Well, and beer, but that’s another article entirely!
First, let me clarify what we consider ‘fast food’. We do not eat at MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, A&W or the like. We have replaced those restaurants with Jugo Juice and Extreme Pita when we are in a rush, but mostly we plan in advance, and don’t put ourselves in the position of ‘needing’ a quick trip through the drive-thru.
In this day and age, thanks to “Food Inc”, “Supersize Me” and Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, our awareness of why ‘fast food’ is not a healthy option is increasing. The facts are that people are eating way too much processed food. Many processed foods are made with trans-fats, saturated fats and high amounts of sodium and sugar. These types of foods should be avoided, or at least eaten sparingly.
Our awareness of the ill-effects of fast food was heightened when my husband began his weight-loss journey, but when our middle child was diagnosed with an ‘intolerance’ to corn syrup, a condition we were warned could become an allergy if we didn’t monitor it, our family became acutely aware of exactly what we were eating under the guise of convenience.
High-fructose corn syrup, also called glucose-fructose, is a very common sweetener that is used in a lot of different foods and beverages. You know those gummy ‘fruit’ treats you give your kids? Most are made with high-fructose corn syrup, as are most packaged drinks (even frozen condensed juices), and some products you wouldn’t consider to be ‘sweet’, such as some breads and lunch meats.
Beware of breakfast cereals and packaged cookies and other snacks. Food companies have recently changed their recipes and moved away from high-fructose corn syrup and back to good old fashioned sugar, but the only sure way to control your intake of high-fructose corn syrup is to stick to homemade snacks.
Why is high-fructose corn syrup so bad? Research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition, and increased triglyceride levels, which can increase your risk of heart attack. There is insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is less healthy than other types of added sweeteners, although many studies have shown it to be a major link to obesity.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean “no snacks allowed”, but we have created a family food culture where yogurt is dessert and our kids consider themselves lucky if they get two apples in one day. Now less than 2 years later our family food shift, our 7-year-old comments about all the people eating “crap” when we drive by a MacDonald’s and Halloween candy sits on a bin in the pantry half a year later because they eat it so sparingly.
We are by no-means perfect. Our kids do get the sugary cereals when we go camping, or the odd slurpee in the summer – after all, they are kids, but the biggest shift has been replacing candy with fruit and processed food with homemade snacks. Where once all they could think of was treats, our kids now consider sliced up banana on their Rice Krispies a fun breakfast.
A few words to live by from Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense to Food”, which are true words to live by:
- Never eat something that is pretending to be something else. (Exactly what high-fructose corn syrup is doing!)
- If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.
- Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
- Eat all the junk food you want—as long as you cook it yourself. That way, it’ll be less junky and you won’t eat it every day because it’s a lot of work.