Seven winning ways with food

From The Australian Women's Weekly's Food for fit and healthy kids cookbook.

With so much information about food and nutrition it sometimes feels like you need a nutrition degree to sort through what’s best for your family when, in fact, the answers are often found in getting the basics right. If you focus on these seven winning ways with food, you’re well on your way to growing a happy, healthy child.

1. role model healthy behaviours
The foundations of healthy eating in your children come from you as parents. It makes sense that kids will naturally mimic the eating and lifestyle behaviours of their parents. Not only are you their provider, but you’re also their biggest role models. And research is proving the amazing strength parents play in being positive role models. So, if you’re skipping breakfast, can you expect them to want to sit and eat alone? If you’re drinking soft drinks with meals, can you really expect them not to ask for one, too, and stick to water? If mum and dad are eating takeaways, should you really expect your preschoolers to sit and eat their vegies?
The best approach is to look at a healthy-lifestyle plan for the whole family that starts from the top down, and not have different foods or rules for the kids. When mums and dads role model healthy eating and physical activity behaviours, often the kids simply come along for the ride. That’s what they love to do: spend time with, and participate in, what their parents do. The best place for kids to learn healthy-eating behaviour is with family meals. You may not be able to sit down together every night of the week, but try as many times as you can. And try brunch together on Sundays, too.
2. keep it real, keep it whole
Another winning way is to get back to basics with whole foods. Choose foods close to the source and in their natural state, like fresh fruits, pulses, vegetables, wholegrains, lean meats, fish, eggs and dairy; you’re certain to get foods naturally brimming in nutrients. These foods tend to be high in nutrients, but not high in kilojoules as they do not have added fat or sugar. These foods help your child grow, but also gives them shiny hair, clear skin, strong nails and sparkling teeth. So try and base much of your child’s food intake around these whole foods. Encourage them to eat foods like apples with skin to boost their fibre and antioxidant intake, probiotic yogurts with active cultures, fish without crumbed coatings and wholegrains.
Wholegrains refer to grain-based foods that use all three layers of the grain – the bran (the outer layer), endosperm (the main part) and germ (the smallest part). And it’s in these three layers that optimal nutrients and antioxidants are found. Good choices include oats, untoasted muesli, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice and mixed-grain breads.
3. eat rainbows
This is a clever extension of the food-variety principle and another winning way to encourage your kids to eat a varied diet. All you need to do is follow the song I Can Sing a Rainbow, and go for red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue. When you eat a rainbow, especially with plant foods, you consume foods from a wide spectrum of colours that maximise nutrients and protective components. Plant foods contain special components called bioactives, which act as antioxidants and play other important roles in the body. There’s lycopene in red-pigmented foods like tomatoes, lutein from gold kiwifruit and anthocyanins, found in blueberries, just to name a few. The idea is to make each meal and snack as colourful as possible to reap these plant rewards.
4. go for friendly fats
Everyone needs a little daily fat to function properly. Fat is an energy source and is necessary to make hormone-like compounds that regulate body processes. Fat also acts as a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. The dietary guidelines for children and adolescents say care should be taken to limit saturated fat and moderate total-fat intake. So the key is to get a little friendly fats each day and limit the rest.
• Friendly polyunsaturated fats: vegetable oils and margarines and certain nuts and seeds.
• Friendly monounsaturated fats: olive, sunola and canola oil, avocado and certain nuts.
• Friendly omega-3 fats: fish oils found in deep-sea fish especially sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel and herring, canola oil, walnuts and linseeds.
• Friendly omega-6 fats: nuts and seeds and their oils.
5. snack smart
Kids have little tummies and big energy needs, so regular mid-meal snacks are vital. While unhealthy snacking has been partially blamed for the obesity epidemic, the right snacks can boost energy and concentration at school, and help meet nutrient requirements. Snack smart on the following foods:
• Fresh fruit
• Yogurt
• Low-fat grain-and-fruit based bars
• Mugs of homemade soup
• Snack-size cans of baked beans
• Fruit snack packs
• Small servings of dried fruit and nuts
• Homemade fruit bread and mini muffins
6. fuel fitness
Carbohydrates are the key fuel for our bodies and vital to fuel fitness. In order to be active, kids need a steady supply of carbohydrates to keep their engines running. When foods containing carbohydrates are digested, they are broken down into glucose in the bloodstream. The glucose can either be used immediately for energy or, if not required, stored in the muscle as glycogen, to be used later. Just remember, more is not necessarily better. Your child’s body can only store a limited amount as glycogen, any excess carbohydrates will be stored as body fat.
Aim to ensure all meals contain some energy-giving carbohydrates like breakfast cereal topped with fruit, sandwiches for lunch, and rice, pasta or noodles with dinner.
Very active kids may need some extra servings of carbohydrates, and especially a high-carbohydrate recovery snack as soon as possible after a strenuous training session. Good choices for a fast refuel include a smoothie or drinking yogurt.
7. add the fun factor
While you don’t need to become a qualified children’s entertainer or turn every meal into a party, there’s a lot to be said about putting the fun factor into food. Food is so much more than simple nourishment. It’s a fundamental part of our social life, our celebrations and traditions. Aim to instil a positive relationship with food in your kids, and keep things fun. This can be as simple as serving up a smoothie with a curly straw or in a brightly coloured glass with an umbrella. Or try having some sushi or a fish and chip meal at the beach along with some active beach kick and run fun. You’ll find more fun factor ideas in getting your kids involved.
Did you know?
Vitamin D boosts bone health as it helps the body better absorb calcium. Dairy foods or breakfast cereals with added vitamin D can help kids reach their peak growth.

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