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5 rules to healthy food for children

I get this question a lot: what should I feed my children? What kind of perfect food for children should I prepare? I have 5 simple rules I live by when I have kids over, like my young nephews Navy & Milo, or other children. When I have kids of my own, I will also follow these guidelines.

1. Don’t bring any foods into your home that you know are not healthy for your children. I mean soda, chips, sweets, candy, chocolate, and other heavily advertised foodlike products. I say “foodlike” because most of these products have so many ingredients that you can’t pronounce, that it is more of a laboratory experiment than real food, and I discourage you from feeding it to your children. Almost all good food items have less than 5 ingredients that you can pronounce.

Rule: The more advertised a product is means that it is probably not so good for you and your kids.

2. Cook yourself. This is important: When you cook yourself, you know what your children are eating. Of course taking out food or heating premade dinners, are easy and fast, but on the long run harmful for your children. You need to make time for your children to prepare and cook them a nutritious meal 3 times a day! Cooking the right foods for your children is the most important. You make them wear nice clothes, spend a lot of time with them, give them education.. why would you feed them bad food? It does not make sense.  Think of everything you buy: “Can I make or prepare this myself if I put 5 minutes of thought into it?” And then do it. Prepackaged food is usually much more expensive too than when you buy the ingredients yourself. So it is a budget tip as well!

Rule: There is no excuse for not taking the time to give your kids a good start with their nutrition.

3. Children can eat what parents eat. Why children’s menus? Don’t get your kids used to them! They usually are unhealthy with lots of fries, hot dogs and burgers anyway. The first months of a child’s life, a child needs breast milk (or milk alternative). When the child has teeth, you can start incorporating small amounts of mashed fruits and vegetables. When they can chew, you add more solid foods like pieces of apple, meat and vegetables. This is all common sense. But why do parents freak out when the children get older? There is no need for that.

Rule: Kids can eat whatever parents eat. Just smaller amounts. So prepare one meal for the whole family, and give a small plate to your children.

4. What foods should my children eat? It is very simple. Children should eat lots of ORGANIC (green) vegetables, fruits, grains & seeds. Why organic? Because conventional products contain lots of chemical additives, pesticides, hormones and other bad stuff. Especially when children are growing, they do not need these ingredients. So avoid them and eat organic as much as possible. Children also need to drink enough water every day. And that does not mean the sugary soda & milk drinks that you find on the market and that call themselves “healthy” & “fatfree” either. Another rule: usually when it is fat free, they need to add sugar to make it taste good. And vice versa. Children also need the right amount of protein every day, just like us grown ups, but not too much. A bit of fish, meat, chicken, cheese,eggs and milk once a day every day is o.k. But too much animal protein is said to not be healthy for your child either. It is all about balance. If you raise your child vegan or vegetarian that is more difficult and you really need to keep an eye out for their protein and calories intake ( a vegan diet is usually much lower in calories needed for healthy growth) as well as their vitamin and mineral levels (calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-12, and some of the other B-vitamins for instance) If your child is behind in growth or weight compared to other children his or her age, you need to check it with a pediatrician, as well as make sure they take in the right nutrients every day. Other sources of protein in vegan foods are in beans, legumes, soy, tempeh, tofu. There are organic vegan protein powders available that some parents give to their kids, they add it usually in the morning in their breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and do not let your child leave for school without it! You need to make time for it, so they have enough energy to learn things at school. What for me is the most important is, is that children eat as little processed and prepackaged foods, but take in lots of organic produce and foods. I am not a big fan of soy products or processed soy products in general (except for fermented tofu) but also for young children especially for boys, as some research has shown that soy can interact with estrogen receptors and therefore interacts with hormone levels in children.

Rule: when a food product is heavily advertised in magazines, tv or internet, it is very likely this food is NOT healthy or good for your child, even if there are all kinds of claims on the product that it is healthy. Read ingredient lists and see for yourself.

p.s. 1. don’t feed children under 1 years old any honey as it can contain traces of botulism which can be toxic for young children as they have not developed defense against that yet. What is important to ask your pediatrician also for the basic do’s and don’ts for food for young children. 

2. Also make sure your child is not allergic to certain foods like nuts, gluten & dairy. You can ask your doctor to test your child for allergies so you can find out if he or she is in fact allergic. This will make feeding your child the right food that much easier, as your child will not experience the discomfort when eating foods that he or she is allergic too. (We don’t want children to get a bad association with food)

5. How do I get my child to eat these healthy foods? They say that whatever you eat during pregnancy, your child grows fond of. So if you eat a lot of broccoli, your child would love that more? I haven’t read any scientific proof of that, but it sounds good. Also, Broccoli or other green vegetables are good for you and the development of the baby anyway! The sooner you get your baby used to different types of food, the easier you will have them eat it when older. The more prepackaged snacks you give your child growing up, the less likely they are to love “normal” foods, because they get used to the strong taste of the prepackaged food, that are usually full of sugar and fat. So in the beginning, you have to just try different vegetables and fruits to see what your child loves. Every child is different! So remember: the more you have your child get used to strong flavors like sugary sweets and salty fries, the less likely they are to eat your food.

What I noticed is, that children love cooking with you, and when they cook or prepare foods with you (think baking a loaf of bread) they feel connected to the food they make and will feel more satisfaction when eating it. Also, it is a great way to spend time together with your child! Decades ago, when women where mostly taking care of the household (and every woman knew how to cook healthy foods), mother’s were preparing lots of delicious meals at home when their kids were present. Nowadays we open a bag or a can and call it dinner. Think about it. It is not inspiring for us, it is not inspiring for our kids. So make your kitchen a happy place instead of a place where you store candy and sugary drinks.

Because what you can do is make healthy foods fun! Make snacks of vegetables and fruits, so kids like them. If you get children to like these healthy foods, they will ask for this food item next time instead of the “bad food”. For instance cook string beans and cut them precisely so they are all the same length, and put them in a french fry paper bag with a healthy dipping sauce. so it looks like they are eating french fries, the healthy way! What also works is making healthy foods “come alive” by cutting out a face, or making animals or puppets from foods, you can also do this with your kids as a fun game. Be creative!

I have even heard stories that if you read your child bedtime stories in which the main character loves a certain kind of vegetable or fruit (think Popeye loving spinach and getting strong that way) your child is more likely to eat these vegetables. So make up a story about Mr. Tomato or Miss Pineapple, and maybe your child will love these foods more too!

Ideas for food for children:

– Prepare fruit soup, juices or smoothies from scratch yourself. Tip: add 1 vegetable to 1 piece of sweet fruit, like spinach to a banana, and your child will not know that there is a vegetable in the smoothie)

– if your child really dislikes a certain kind of food, like kale or brussel sprouts, prepare it once in a totally different way. For instance add kale raw to your fruit juice smoothie, or shred the brusselsprouts and stir fry them with some salt and pepper. Sometimes children have an aversion not to the taste, but to the texture. So you can play with both flavor and texture.

– Make your own apple sauce and jams & marmalades for on their sandwich.

– Eat more rice, quinoa, bulgur, spelt instead of pasta and bread. It is just healthier for everyone.

-If you love bread, bake your own bread! Smells good too and it is fairly easy.

– Steam and cut vegetables (easier to digest), or cut fruits in fun shapes and  give them in a way so they can hold the pieces easily in your child’s hand.

– Make your own dips like hummus or grilled pepper dip instead of mayonnaise. You can also make your own tomato ketchup.

-cook vegetables, grains, meats until really soft so it is easier for children to chew.

– Cut food in small pieces so they don’t choke either. Rule: the bigger the child, the bigger the pieces.

I will post more food recipes suitable for children in the future here on Organice Your Life®!

There is no excuse for feeding your children bad food.

Love, Lonneke

picture: Navy Lamey and James the pug by Alexia van der Meijden.

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