Even though it may look a little different than usual, back to school is here again. Whether your child is heading into the classroom, launching into distance learning or being home schooled, the need for healthy food choices remains paramount to children’s well-being. Maintaining a healthy diet has a measurable impact on children’s general health, not only supporting healthy growth and weight but balancing mood and increasing focus.
Whether you are super organized and excited about the idea of packing school lunches or the mere thought brings nothing but dread, we have you covered. Read on for some healthy eating tips and nutritional information as well as a few fantastic ideas and a recipe to get you started.
So, what is healthy eating?
Healthy eating involves consuming a variety of foods containing the nutrients children require for normal growth and development (such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals). It may be a simple statement but trying to fit healthy changes into our hectic day-to-day lives can seem a bit daunting. Parents are up against peer pressure, targeted marketing, exposure to junk food and conditioning to unhealthy food choices. Thankfully, we are here to break it down into some simple steps, helping you transition into healthier eating habits for both you and your children.
As with any new habit, it is beneficial to understand why we are trying to make a change. Understanding the benefits of a healthy diet can often keep us going when we would rather just go back to what we have done in the past. So . . .
What are the benefits of a healthy diet?
In a nutshell, children who are poorly nourished will not have the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.
- Poorly nourished children have weaker immune systems, increasing their chance of illness and infection. 1
- Caffeine from pop, energy drinks, or coffee is associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression in kids. High levels of caffeine also disrupt their sleep patterns, often resulting in lowered academic achievement. 2
- A diet high in processed and sugary foods, can increase the risk for depression and poor mental health.3
- Poor nutrition can also lead children to being either underweight or overweight.
Healthy eating habits and proper nutrition is the leading means to healthy, vibrant children. For example, eating a healthy breakfast can help children maintain a healthy weight, improve cognitive function, improve academic performance and support mood and energy. 4
Now that we have a greater understanding of the WHY, we can launch into the WHAT. In other words, the building blocks of eating a nutritious diet.
- Ramp up the fresh fruits and vegetables – The more the merrier. Fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
- Consume organic and non-GMO products when possible – Eating organic and non-GMO has been shown to reduce pesticide levels in kids. Since children are still developing their brains and bodies, they are more sensitive to these toxins.
- Include healthy fats – Kids need healthy fats in their diet to help them feel full, concentrate better and improve their mood. Healthy fats can be found in foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.
- Avoid the unhealthy Trans fats found in vegetable shortening, fried foods, most junk food and any food labelled with “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils.
- Cut down on the sugar and refined carbohydrates – Limit the amount of white sugar, avoid high-fructose corn syrup and opt for healthier sweet options such as maple syrup, honey or fruit. Refined carbohydrates are stripped of their bran and nutrients often causing dangerous spikes in blood sugar. Focus on complex carbohydrates which are usually higher in nutrients and fiber which allows for a slower digestion giving lasting energy and a good bowel movement.
- Avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, flavours and colours – Choose foods close to how nature made them and cut down on the processed choices. Artificial ingredients are just that, artificial, and do not provide nutritional benefit.
Keep in mind that life is a balance. There is no need to count every nutrient your child consumes but try to ensure a variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein. If you can provide a strong nutritional base at home, they will have a bit of a buffer for when the occasional unhealthy day happens.
How do I get my child to eat healthy foods?
It will take a bit of trial and error when it comes to our children’s taste buds. They may need to try a food as many as 8-10 times in order to acquire a taste for it. This is where some stealthier options may be of benefit. There is a delicate balance between healthy eating and an entire untouched lunch box returning home. Sneaking a little more nutrition into their diets can be a great starting point.
- Make chocolate pudding with avocados
- Use butternut squash in your cheese sauce for pasta
- Zucchini is fantastic in chocolate muffins
- Black bean brownies
- Baked sweet potato fries
- Soup can provide a great way to get a variety of vegetables but remember to puree it if the site of a vegetable will send them running
- Smoothies can be a powerhouse of nutrition and great way to add in greens or protein
- Add protein powder to pancakes, muffins or other baked goods
- Try out the recipe below for Breakfast Cookies!
As a parent, you are a role model and it is important to make healthy choices for yourself as well. Speak to your children about nutrition and healthy food options. Teach them. The earlier you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into your kids’ diets, the easier it will be for them to make healthy choices for themselves. Help them to develop a healthy relationship with food that can last them a lifetime.
1 Peter Katona, Judit Katona-Apte, The Interaction between Nutrition and Infection, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 46, Issue 10, 15 May 2008, Pages 1582–1588, https://doi.org/10.1086/587658
2 Richards, G., & Smith, A. (2015). Caffeine consumption and self-assessed stress, anxiety, and depression in secondary school children. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29(12), 1236–1247. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881115612404
3 Khalid, S., Williams, C., & Reynolds, S. (2016). Is there an association between diet and depression in children and adolescents? A systematic review. British Journal of Nutrition, 116(12), 2097-2108. doi:10.1017/S0007114516004359
4 Rampersaud, G. C. (2009). Benefits of Breakfast for Children and Adolescents: Update and Recommendations for Practitioners. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 3(2), 86–103. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827608327219
Serves: 26-30 or 8-10
- 1 cup rolled oats (gluten free certified)
- 1 scoop Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein - Vanilla
- ¼ cup flax seed
- ¼ cup gluten free flour blend (of your choice)
- 2 tsp cinnamon (ground)
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp Garden of Life Raw Virgin Coconut Oil (melted)
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup applesauce (unsweetened)
- 1 cup carrot (finely shredded - approximately 1 large carrot)
- 1/3 cup raisins or 1/3 cup mini-chocolate chips (vegan)
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds (optional)
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice - optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil or line a cookie sheet with parchment. Put aside.
- In a medium bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients: rolled oats, Raw Organic Protein Vanilla, ground flax seed, gluten free flour blend, ground cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
- In a separate bowl, mix together all the wet ingredients: melted coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, applesauce, and finely shredded carrot.
- Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to gently combine the ingredients. The batter will be very moist.
- Fold in raisins or chocolate chips. If you are adding in any optional ingredients, fold them in as well.
- Large cookies: Scoop about ¼ cup of batter per cookie and place on prepared cookie sheet. Lightly flatten cookies with a fork to achieve desired shape as the cookies will not spread while baking. Makes about 8-10 cookies.
- Small cookies: Scoop about 1 tablespoon of batter per cookie and place on prepared cookie sheet. Lightly flatten cookies with a fork to achieve desired shape as the cookies will not spread while baking. Makes about 26-30 cookies.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Using a spatula, remove cookies from baking sheet and place on a cooling rack. The cookies are delicious warm or cooled but remember that the raisins and chocolate chips retain heat for some time after baking. Enjoy!