Encouraging healthy eating can feel like a big task in a world that glorifies candy, chocolate and chips over foods that are healthy and will help your kids grow up strong. Luckily, kids look up to their parents, so you can help to guide them in the choices they make. “Parents have to be good role models,” says Dr. Brian McCrindle, Foundation spokesperson and cardiologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “Try to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal – including breakfast. Also, limit processed foods and have healthy meals and snacks planned for your kids as well as yourself.” He says it’s better to try to set the example of “do as I do,” and not the more common “do as I say.”
Here are a few fun facts about food that might make your kids think twice about the foods and snacks they choose.
You can start the conversation with, “Did you know that…
- A 355 mL can of pop contains 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. That’s 150 to 180 empty calories. Better to cut your thirst with some water or milk.
- Fish, chicken and other lean meats and meat alternatives such as beans and tofu are filled with protein to help keep muscles strong.
- Leafy green vegetables like broccoli and orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are full of vitamins to keep you energized and help you play harder for longer.
- Fruit is better than the juice! In fact, a raw unpeeled apple has almost 10 times more fibre than a cup of apple juice.
- Sports drinks are composed mostly of water, but their second biggest ingredient is sugar. While sports drinks are OK to drink sometimes after a lot of exercise like a soccer game, you’ll get more nutrition (and less empty calories) by having water plus a complex carbohydrate like fresh fruit.
- Your body needs good oils and fats to give your muscles quick energy. But if you eat too much, it gets stored in your body. Good fats are found in nuts, avocados, olive oil, canola oil and soft, non-hydrogenated margarine. Bad fats are found in hard margarine, vegetable shortening, butter, coconut and palm oils, fatty meat and full-fat dairy products.
- Lower-fat milk and dairy products and fortified soy products are crammed with calcium to build strong bones that help you to stay safe while playing.
- Eating fibre makes you feel fuller and it’s healthy for your heart. Eating a slice of white bread won't satisfy your hunger nearly as much as a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread with the germ. High-fibre foods also have vitamins and minerals to keep your heart strong.
- Sugary soft drinks, sugary cereals, white bread and white rice break down quickly in the body, making you hungry soon after. They can also give you a quick rush of energy, but that is soon used up, leaving you tired and even cranky.
- Nutritious snacks keep you feeling energized throughout the day, helping you beat energy slumps and keeping your metabolic rate up, which helps in maintaining a healthy weight. For example, a small handful of nuts with a piece of fresh fruit has fibre and healthy fats that give you energy that lasts, unlike what you get from junk food such as potato chips or candy bars.
Making healthy food the quickest, easiest choice will also increase the chances that your kids will make that choice. That’s why it’s also helpful not to keep junk food in the house and at least out of reach and sight of your little ones.
At all times, have some vegetables, fruit and healthy foods in your kitchen that you know your kids like. If their favourite flavour of low-fat yogurt is peach, then buy that. Get a bunch of easy-to-peel bananas if you know that’s something your kids enjoy. That’s why it can also be helpful to let them help you plan your grocery list – especially when it comes to vegetables and fruit. Remember that if your kid “hates” plums and that’s the only fruit in the house, they may beg for junk food or skip a healthy snack altogether.
If you’re discouraged because fresh food often gets left uneaten and goes bad, remember that frozen and canned vegetables, fruit, fish and other foods are also great time savers that are just as healthy. Just double-check for added sugar, salt or unhealthy fats.