Children are our most precious resource and, as parents and caregivers, our primary task is to help them grow strong in body, mind and spirit. It is a daunting task to dissuade our little charges from filling up on the junk food that is so readily available to them. They are bombarded on every side with tempting sugar-laden, nutrient-deficient foods, often by cute little, seemingly harmless, cartoon characters. How can we compete with all of this “fun?” What must we do to arm ourselves and protect our children against this daily onslaught of bunk? With some forethought, we can win the battle. Overworked parents, striving to give their children some precious quality time, are often lured into the fast-food lane in an effort to save precious moments. There are ways to combat the enemy and teach our children how to make better choices.
First and foremost, remember that “out of sight, out of mind” is an important first line of defense. Don’t buy the cookies, sodas, and other sugary, fatty snacks. If they are available, children will mindlessly choose them. We don’t need them and neither do our children. Instead, fill the refrigerator with fruit juices, low-fat yogurts and cheeses. Set out an attractive and tempting bowl of fresh fruit for an anytime snack.
Kids love to “do it themselves.” So why don’t we let them. Create a salad bar full of prepared fruits and veggies. Wash and cut up wholesome foods, such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, colorful green, yellow and red peppers, celery sticks, broccoli florets and cauliflower. Put each item in its own covered container and encourage the children to pick and choose from their favorites. Serve with low-fat yogurt mixed with a dried vegetable soup mix or offer a variety of low-fat dressings. Hard boiled eggs, low-fat cottage cheese and drained, rinsed canned beans are all healthy additions. Once a child has made his own salad, he is more likely to relish eating his creation. These foods also go well in lunch boxes. For a sweet treat, add sliced apples with peanut butter, or a fruit salad.
After school treats are easy to prepare ahead. Purchase the plastic freezer pop molds and make some frozen treats with 100% fruit juices. Trail mix can include any whole-grain cereal, chopped dried fruits and nuts. Make smoothies by blending several ice cubes with some low-fat milk or yogurt, fruit and a little honey to sweeten.
While it is true that it is easier to tear into a bag of chips or cookies, look at the lessons we are teaching at our children’s expense. We cannot leave the responsibility for their well-being up to them. We need to impart good healthy food habits to our children as surely as we teach them to brush their teeth, bathe themselves and practice safety when riding their bikes and skateboards. It does take extra effort to ensure that our kids are getting a nutrient- rich diet, but it is well worth the extra time invested.