Every parent wants their kids to eat healthy, but if your family isn’t used to home-cooked meals, the extra time and money can make it easy to put off. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to keep your kids healthy without overhauling your routine, or busting your budget.
Here are a few of the easiest ways to make it happen.
1. Stop drinking calories
Soda and energy drinks are one of the leading risk factors for child obesity and juvenile-onset diabetes, simply because they’re packed with more sugar than even an adult body can process. A single 20-oz. Dr. Pepper contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar (mostly high fructose corn syrup), while an Orange Crush has more than double that!
You might think you’re safe with fruit juices, but even those should be carefully moderated—unsweetened apple juice has just as much sugar-per-ounce as Coca-Cola. Diet sodas can also make trouble for healthy eating, because they trigger an insulin response that can make you hungry. The bottom line: you’re better off sticking to water, with juice as an occasional treat.
2. Don’t be afraid of frozen produce
Adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your family’s diet is ideal, but not always possible. In the middle of winter it’s difficult to find produce you can grow yourself, and out-of-season items can be expensive. So purchase whatever is in-season in your area, and don’t be afraid to supplement with frozen goods.
Finding quality frozen fruits and vegetables isn’t too difficult; you just want to ensure that they were frozen right after picking, which will often be displayed on the packaging. Freezing fresh produce can actually preserve more of the nutrients than buying the ‘fresh’ fruit that has been sitting around for days or weeks being shipped to your area.
3. Personalize for your health needs
Everyone’s nutritional needs are different—there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, and the quality of your diet determines about ¾ of your overall health. For example, if you suffer from anemia and get a significant portion of your iron from meat, find vegetarian substitutes before switching to a more restrictive diet. If you take fish oil for chronic joint pain, look into other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like algae and nut oils, before going vegan. Make sure your kids have plenty of leafy greens and whole grains during the day to help keep them focused at school and during homework.
4. Plan your snacks
This is one of the most challenging steps, but also one of the most financially and nutritionally rewarding: stop buying processed and pre-packaged snack foods. Ask yourself questions like, “Will this be for a snack or meal?” before placing an item in your cart. You’ll have to cope with some griping early on as kids wonder where their favorite salty, fatty snacks went, but a good rule in our house is: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry. Try ants on a log for your children’s after-school snack instead of pre-made snacks. All you need is celery, peanut butter, and raisins.
5. Lean proteins in bulk
Lean proteins are not only essential for growing bodies—they also help you feel “sated”, and reduce the temptation to graze impulsively. Canned beans and other veggies are a good source of protein, but are generally more expensive and less nutritious than dry, bulk protein, and they usually contain preservatives. Buy dry beans, soy, and other sources of vegetable protein in bulk—all it takes is five minutes of forethought, a day in advance, to soak them for cooking.
[About the author: Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for HomeDaddys, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin. Image: epSos.de]