Exploring the World
of Food with Your Kids
Who Tells Your Kids and You What to Eat?
by Sandra Brandt
I recently attended a public forum which consisted of a discussion among three university professors from various disciplines. The theme revolved around the issue of children and health, especially diet. The discussion delved into various aspects of the topic, such as education and physical activity. There was, however, one particular point that barely merited a mention; that was the dimension of advertising to children and parents. I believe that this is probably a major factor in what children are motivated to consume and also in what foods their parents and caregivers make available to them.
The 20th century has seen the emergence of mass manufacturing of edible products, together with brand names, promotional marketing, and grocery chain retailers. Profit, rather than genuine nutritional content, generally constitutes the bottom line. This combined phenomenon has gradually changed the way most of us relate to food. Imagine past centuries when people generally knew exactly what they and their children were eating and how it was made. Compare this scenario to the present, when food is often purchased on the basis of taste in the form of artificial flavourings, brand recognition, and often dubious health claims that cater to the latest dietary trends.
It is generally agreed that kids these days have access to, and consume, far too much non-nutritious food, and that this affects their well-being, not only physically, but also their emotional and mental functioning as well as their attention span. And beyond that, lifestyle-induced weaknesses can also carry on into future generations by way of weakened immune and reproductive systems.
There is no easy answer to the time crunch that most families experience nowadays in relation to jam-packed schedules. Advertisers and food product marketers seem to offer an easy solution. Eating on the run and filling kids’ hungry tummies with vending machine snacks or conveniently packaged tasty morsels almost seems to be the norm. Unfortunately, the time saved in not preparing one’s own food made from nutritious ingredients is often spent instead on responding to medical crises and downtime related to illness and lack of energy. Besides deliberately cutting back on closely scheduled activities, which may be an option for some, the situation can also be addressed by making the most of the time that is available to prepare highly nutritious, but relatively easy-to-prepare, food items to keep on hand. You may be surprised to find that as you gradually incorporate more natural homemade foods into you own and your children’s daily fare, your energy and motivation to prepare good things seems to increase. You may also be surprised to find that keeping a kitchen well stocked with nutritious basic staple ingredients can lead to quick, easy, and varied meals, and also save time and money spent on impulsive buying and extra trips to the store.
Kids are also especially susceptible to peer pressure, and may feel left out if they don’t have the same attractively packaged “fun” foods their friends and schoolmates display. However, persistence in encouraging healthy foods usually pays off in the long run, even though it may seem like a constant uphill struggle on a day-to-day basis.
As we enter another season of school and extracurricular activities, parents and children are once again exposed to a busy schedule and the temptation to consume whatever is most convenient in terms of time and taste. Although a few specific items, such as pop machines in schools, have been targeted for extinction, such a policy really only touches the tip of the iceberg. It is still important to take a wider view in addressing the issue of kids’ food and health.
Next time you are out grocery shopping, take note of which items on the shelves have to make a promotional effort, in terms of fancy packaging and advertising, to convince you of their taste and nutritional value. And which ones don’t. How do marketers convince you that their product is a good buy for you and your kids?
For example, I believe that one of the biggest nutrition hoaxes is found in boxed cereals and cereal bars. These products are so highly processed that in spite of their eye-catching claims of healthy ingredients, there is little nutritional value remaining by the time the product goes into the package, except perhaps the few obligatory synthetic nutrients added after processing. Yet these are the very foods many rely on to give their kids a good start to the morning and recharge their energy at intervals through the day. The old-fashioned breakfast of eggs and porridge, although it takes more time to prepare of course, consists of the nutrients that really feed the brain cells and help sustain even energy levels. And of course, there are endless ways to combine good basic foods to vary the menu, so this way of eating need never become repetitive unless you prefer it to be.
Not every meal has to necessarily be a “whole family sitting down at the table together” event. There should be room for accommodating the circumstances. A nutritious snack on the way to being driven to a class, rehearsal, game, etc. can still forge a connection between the eater and the person who prepared it with care.
So make whatever time you can to explore the world of food with your kids—through books, the internet, and in the kitchen. It can be fun, fascinating, and rewarding for everyone!
Here are a few ideas for kid-friendly foodstuffs that satisfy the sweet tooth with small amounts of wholesome sweeteners and without fake flavours.
1. For Yogurt Creamsicles, combine 1/4 cup unsweetened fruit juice concentrate with 3/4 cup plain yogurt and a dash of vanilla. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
2. For Not-So-Drippy Juice Popsicles, combine 1/2 pkg unflavoured gelatin powder with a small amount of unsweetened fruit juice over low heat, stirring gently until gelatin dissolves. Add more juice to equal two cups. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
1 small can (156 ml) tomato paste
1 tbsp honey
2–4 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar, combined with water to equal 1/2 cup
1 tsp natural soy sauce
dried spices to taste, such as onion and garlic powder, allspice
more water if necessary for
Combine unsweetened fruit juice with plain carbonated water and/or stevia-sweetened fruit-flavoured herbal tea. Experiment with proportions. (Even if fruit juice is “unsweetened,” it is still concentrated in fruit sugar because it is separated from the rest of the fruit. This tasty beverage reduces the sugar hit.)
Peanut Butter Candy
1 cup natural unsalted peanut butter
a few tbsp honey (or sweeten to taste)
1/4 tsp unrefined salt
1–2 cups dry ingredients, such as toasted wheat germ, hemp hearts, coconut, ground sunflower seeds, chopped raisins until mixture is dry enough to handle with your hands. Shape into small balls. Chill.
For Peanut-free Candy, try using almond or cashew butter instead of peanut butter.
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She is located in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached via email: email@example.com or phone (306) 359-1732. Also see the colour display ad on page 13 of the 16.3 September/October
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.