What ever happened to that fabulous New Year’s resolution? Did you resolve to change your eating habits and exercise? Did you try for a week and slowly fall off the plan? We all fall short of those lofty goals from time to time.
It’s important to make small diet and lifestyle cutbacks that can last the entire year, rather than make too many changes that you can’t continue over the long haul. Vow to try again.
This time, make more practical, long-term changes that can benefit you and your family. You can start by reducing three items in your family’s diet: sugar, salt and fat.
Why make these dietary changes? To make better choices. Childhood obesity is overwhelming America. More than one-third of American children are overweight, and one-third of those kids are obese. A recent USA Today article referenced a study that found that more than one-third of children eat no fruits or vegetables at all. Nine percent of children eat French fries daily. Ninety percent of children eat more sodium (salt) than recommended. Many children eat hot dogs, sausage or bacon every day. Sixty percent of children have dessert daily. One-third of children consume sugary fruit drinks each day. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. is seeing increased childhood obesity. As parents, you need to take urgent action for changes — starting in your homes and on your plates. Kids learn what they live. They don’t need to be placed on a diet, but you need to change the way you live and the way you eat. Your children watch what you do and imitate your actions. For your kids to eat healthier, you need to eat healthier.
Plan Your Trip to the Grocery Store
Plan your menu ahead of your shopping trip. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to sit down and make a weekly menu and shopping list. The menu should include healthy breakfast choices, quick-and-easy lunch choices and at least six dinner choices. Include a vegetable and a fruit with each meal. Strive to eat five fresh vegetables and fruits each day. Include your kids in the planning. Ask them what they want on the menu and discuss ways to make their choices healthier. Talk about healthy foods and explain why the list must include healthy choices. This helps children to understand and be involved in the process. Kids need to participate in the planning, shopping and preparation of foods.
Stick to Your Shopping List
The next step is controlling what you purchase at the grocery store. Let your kids know that they need to help you choose healthier items. Stick to the list.
Get them involved in reading food labels. Teach them about the way the ingredients are listed, with the order of the ingredients listed in the amounts added. The largest amounts are written first. Tell your children that if sugar is the first ingredient, the food is not a healthy choice. Watch the serving size. One bottle of flavored water may have two or three servings in one bottle. Watch for the amounts of sugar, salt (sodium) and fat on the labels. Ask your children to help you make the best choice, including making a note of the prices.
Buy Fresh Whenever Possible
The healthiest foods have no labels. Buy more fresh fruits and vegetables. Purchase whole grains whenever possible. Search for 100-percent whole-wheat breads or cereals. Choose whole-wheat tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Try brown rice instead of white rice. Look for lean meats. Consider adding fish or skinless chicken breasts. Avoid processed meats. Processed foods are packaged in boxes, cans or bags. Processing can include freezing, drying or canning and is done to extend the shelf life of foods. The more natural the food, the less the added sugar, salt or fat. Ask your children to choose the best bananas, lettuce and grapes. Your kids will enjoy helping you and will learn during the process.
Avoid Added Sugar
Sugar may be listed as glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, galactose, sugar cane or high-fructose corn syrup. There are 56 words that mean sugar. Sugar can be hidden in some foods, such as pasta sauce. One-third of a jar of pasta sauce includes about three teaspoons of sugar. Vitamin water may have 30 grams of sugar (seven teaspoons), the same as three glazed donuts. Again, avoid foods that have sugar listed as the first ingredient. Choose foods that are lower in sugar.
Limit Added Salt (Sodium)
Everyone needs some salt, but most Americans consume double the recommended daily allowance of sodium, which varies by age: 1-3 years, 1,000 milligrams/day (maximum 1,500 mg/day); 4-8 years, 1,200 mg/day (maximum 2,200 mg/day); 9-18 years, 1,500 mg/day (maximum 2,300 mg/day); infants less than 1 year, no added salt. Ninety percent of children consume more that the recommended levels of sodium, which can lead to increased blood pressure, a risk for heart disease and stroke. When using salt, consider iodized salt to prevent thyroid issues. Iodine, needed by the body, can also be obtained through saltwater fish. Salt can be hidden in foods. Look for the word sodium, which means salt. A slice of pizza contains 760 mg of sodium. Three ounces of chicken nuggets contains 600 mg of sodium. A serving of canned soup contains 940 mg of sodium, and even soda can be high in sodium. A slice of bread contains 230 mg of sodium. Choose foods that are labeled sodium-free or low-sodium. Processed foods often contain sodium.
Avoid Saturated Fats
Fat is included on labels as well. We need healthy fats to give us energy. Choose foods lower in fat, but beware as some low-fat foods are very high in sugar, salt (sodium) and calories. It’s more important to choose healthier foods than it is to just focus on low-fat items. Fried foods are always higher in fat. Consider a baked option instead of a fried food. Avoid saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, such as animal fats, which can raise cholesterol. Butter, sausage, cream and lard are examples of saturated fat. Choose unsaturated fat (plant oils, such as olive oil) and omega-3 fatty acids (oils from walnuts, flaxseeds and fish) as healthier options.
The 10 Worst Foods for Children and What to Substitute, Accord-ing to The Center for Science in the Public Interest
1. Instead of soda, try water with a slice of lemon, orange or lime.
2. Instead of whole milk (over two years of age), try one-percent or skim milk.
3. Instead of a hamburger, try extra-lean ground beef or a turkey or a veggie burger.
4. Instead of American cheese as a snack, try whole-wheat crackers or air-popped popcorn.
5. Instead of hot dogs, try low-fat hot dogs or turkey dogs in a whole-wheat bun.
6. Instead of French fries, try fresh vegetables (carrot sticks, celery or broccoli).
7. Instead of ice cream, try nonfat ice cream, frozen yogurt or — even better — Greek yogurt.
8. Instead of meat-and-cheese pizza, try a whole-wheat tortilla with spinach or tomato with olive oil.
9. Instead of bologna, try chicken breast without skin or breading on whole-wheat bread.
10. Instead of chocolate bars for desert, try fresh fruits (oranges, melon or berries).
Simple Changes to Make
* Buy and eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. Strive for five each day.
* Avoid soft drinks and sugary drinks, including fruit juices.
* Drink low-fat milk (children between 12 months and 2 years need whole milk).
* Drink water. Add lemon, lime, orange or cucumber for flavor.
* Eat lean meats. Include fish and skinless chicken, without breading.
* Increase the fiber in your diet by eating more whole grains.
* Purchase whole-grain, low-sugar cereal.
* Eat fewer processed foods (canned, dried, boxed or frozen).
* Use less salt (sodium), and don’t set the shaker on the table.
* Eat together as a family at the dinner table with the TV off.
* Use smaller plates to help control portion sizes.
* Cut down on added sugar.
* Choose unsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats).
* Pack lunches to avoid impulse-eating at school.
* Plan healthy snacks (carrot sticks, celery or grapes).
* Limit dining out. By cooking, you control what is added.
By simply reducing the amount of sugar, salt and fat in your diet, you can improve your children’s health. Making small changes over a long period will help your kids live healthy lives. Do it for yourself, because you are doing it for them. A healthy parent leads to a healthy child!
Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is employed by Pediatric Specialists, Norfolk, VA. Visit www.RaisingTodaysChild.com.