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The health of our children

Science news is a little frustrating for parents to follow. Because of the nature of science, it’s always changing! If we were raising kids in the 80’s, we’d probably be dumping oat bran into everything they eat. Although this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea, it wouldn’t be the miracle cure some scientists believed it was then.

Sodas are a number one source of unnecessary calories. Banish them from your house except as a treat!

Sodas are a number one source of unnecessary calories. Banish them from your house except as a treat!

Many of those who are parents now were themselves raised by parents who had no idea of the harm that could come to their children from packaged and fast foods. When these foods started to gain popularity in the 50’s, it seemed the height of modern living to eat them. Why fuss over a pot of beans that takes three hours to cook when you can open a can?

So now we have a whole generation of parents who are completely removed from the process of cooking from basic ingredients. And their kids are suffering. The health news is full of it: obesity, dietary deficiencies, behavioral problems.

So if you’re one of those parents who was never taught how to cook from the raw ingredients, where do you start?

First of all, you’re going to have to get buy-in from your family. Kids who have been raised on the high-salt, high-sugar packaged foods that we’re faced with on TV and in the grocery store will be reluctant. Spouses might not want to change, either. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline fame suggests weekly family meetings to cure all sort of family problems. I’d suggest you start now, and bring up the subject of health as a major issue of importance.

Second, most of my readers live in Santa Cruz County, and we are blessed here with the very best resource for healthy family living that I could imagine: Our farmers markets. We have one almost every day of the week in some part of the county. And the food you can find there is varied and healthy all year long. Take your kids along and make it a party. Try tastes of everything that is offered. Commit to buying one fresh vegetable that you’ve never tried to cook.

Third, take a look at the biggest offenders in your diet and get rid of them. I just wrote an article for Examiner.com about new research about high fructose corn syrup that has just come out. There’s been a fight about this for years: some health experts suspected HFCS as a contributing factor to our incredible rise in obesity. Others said that a sugar is a sugar: they are all processed exactly the same in our bodies. It’s looking more and more like HFCS is, in fact, a big offender. Similar to trans fats, which have been taken out of almost every packaged product out there at this point, I predict that HFCS will soon be a thing of the past. Yes, our food will be slightly more expensive, but we will all be healthier.

(Think you don’t have much HFCS in your diet? Look at all the non-sweet packaged foods in your cupboard for a shock: it’s in everything, including commercial bread!)

Another thing that has to happen is that your family will have to commit to more time focused on food. If your family is overweight, you probably think that’s a strange piece of advice, but a lot of bad nutrition comes from people just eating whatever is available rather than thinking about their food. Try to commit to eating at home, first of all. The more often you eat at home, the more often you control what goes into the meal. Think about creating a monthly menu so that shopping is easier.

If you’ve never done much cooking (I mean real cooking, not just heating things!), you could start easy and treat yourself to a bundle of meals at Fresh Prep Kitchens, where they will walk you through the steps of preparing healthy meals for your freezer. Or ask a friend who cooks to make some community meals for the two families so you can see someone who does it regularly in action. Or buy one of the many simple cooking cookbooks out there that will not only walk you simply through the steps, but even perhaps present you with menus and shopping lists.

If you do buy packaged foods, start looking at the labels. Be aware that if the label says “nutritious” and “low-fat” and “heathy,” your alarm bells should go off! There are lots of words that food packagers are allowed to use that have, shall we say, rather vague meanings. For example, you can load a food full of vitamin supplements, but if it’s still high in HFCS and fat, and low in fiber, protein, and all that other good stuff, then it’s still junk. Junk + vitamin supplements does not equal healthy!

Finally, don’t think that organic = healthy. There’s lot of organic junkfood on the market these days. It’s junkfood because your children won’t be getting nutrients to balance the calories, salt, and fat in the food, not because of pesticides. You’re probably better off in general shopping at a store that is committed to carrying healthy foods, but mindless consumers of organic packaged foods are simply paying higher prices if what they’re buying is junk.

There are a few online resources I think are good:

  • One site I like is KidsHealth.org. They have a site for parents and one for kids. You can get good information on the parents’ site, while your kids can learn about health, mental health, exercise, and the human body with engaging articles and videos.
  • KeepKidsHealthy.com has lots of information on how to read food labels and what the various nutrients do.
  • ParentsAgainstJunkFood.org presents tons of reasons to keep it out of your kids’ diets.
  • I love scanning ScienceDaily.com‘s nutrition news, personally, but if you get a headache from too much conflicting detail, stay away!

Note: I see that SantaCruzParent is offering a Parent Perk for: 8-Week Natural Chef Training, New Leaf Community Markets, Valid until 04/30/10. If you’re a member, just go to The Parent Perks page after logging in at the website. If you’re not a member, sign up to receive the newsletter and then you can go to that page!

Posted in Health, Parenting.


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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Sugar fixation – Avant Parenting linked to this post on June 22, 2011

    […] Lustig’s video on fructose that went viral last year. That’s fructose as in “high fructose corn syrup,” the major ingredient in American sodas. Fructose, which he calls “poison.” I […]



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