As a mom of two young children who is fairly pedantic about healthy eating I hear comments all the time like ‘all kids need treats’ and ‘it’s really not much fun for kids to eat all of that healthy food’, but I have stuck to my guns and continued to sow good eating habits into my family. And by good eating habits I don’t mean that the poor things eat veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, you’ll be thrilled to know that my son who is 5, like most boys his age, despises any food that has even a remotely green tinge to it. They do, however, love fresh and dried fruits and have grown up eating whole grains and beans instead of the nutrient sparse refined versions of some of these foods. And slowly but surely I introduce them to new foods and new flavours always encouraging their palettes to expand. I teach them the true value of the beautiful produce that we can find all around us, I encourage them to help me in the kitchen when I prepare meals and we take them to our local farmers market on a weekend to choose their own goods. My children seldom eat sweets, they’ve never eaten white rice apart from in sushi, they would have no idea what coca cola tastes like and if you ask me if I think I am depriving my children or some of life’s great joys my answer would be most definitely be no, I am most certainly not.
As a survivor of cancer, having being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 20, I know fully well what a gift our lives are to us. And I hope to never take that for granted. The World Health organization (WHO) reported in February 2014 that the globe is facing a “tidal wave” of cancer, and restrictions on alcohol and sugar need to be considered. It predicts the number of cancer cases will reach 24 million a year by 2035, but half could be prevented. The WHO said there was now a “real need” to focus on cancer prevention by tackling smoking, obesity and drinking. The World Cancer Research Fund said there was an “alarming” level of naivety about diet’s role in cancer.
It has become increasingly apparent to me that we have disconnected to a large extent from the true purpose of food in our lives. Food was intended to nourish our bodies allowing them to remain healthy and strong. But we seem to eat for so many other reasons in the modern day. Many women struggle with weight and spend a large amount of time consumed by thoughts of how to lose weight. I wonder how many of our food associations which are not helpful when trying to manage our weight such as ‘comfort eating’ for example are formed when we are very young. If I look at this along with the WHO research that is saying that we need to look at the part that diet may play in the potential increase in the rate of cancer and I become even more passionate about continuing to go against the current in encouraging my children to eat wholesome, nutritious diets.
The first five years of a child’s life are the most critical in terms of diet. This is the time of massive growth and development during which almost half of a child’s learning pathways are formed in their brain. This is also the time when parents can be the most influential in terms of their child’s eating habits. But it is never too late to start introducing healthy habits into anyone’s diet. Here are some of my tips to consider when starting out on a journey of healthy eating:
- This needs to be a family commitment as a child cannot be expected to develop a healthy habit that they do not observe their parent practicing.
- Do not make extreme changes suddenly but rather map out the healthy changes you would like your family to make and introduce them one at a time – too much too soon will create too many negative emotions about the process.
- Educate your family as to why you think this is important. Even young children should understand why certain food choices are better than others as this assists them to make these same healthier choices in the future when you may not be there to guide them.
- Make being healthy fun! Experiment with different flavours and textures, get the family involved and have fun with it!
- If you’re not sure what is classified as healthy and what isn’t, remember this simple rule – Foods were originally created whole, unprocessed and unpreserved. So foods that are closest to that original form are the healthiest. Raw fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and grains flavoured with raw, unfiltered honey and herbs and spices. Nature provided us with everything we need to be truly satisfied and nourished by our diets.
And so when someone says to me ‘shame, being healthy really can’t be much fun for your kids’ I say with confidence ‘well then I’m afraid you have the wrong view on what being healthy really means, because my family love it, in fact, we thrive on it!’