As a parent, there is so much pressure from society about what we should and shouldn’t do for our children. From what time they should be going to bed, to whether too much screen time is detrimental for their development – these are common questions we ask ourselves each day… but the one that’s getting to me at the moment is what other people are telling me I should be feeding my kids.
Many of us worry about whether we’re making the right healthy choices for our family, and this may stem from the fact that over 25 percent of the Australian population is classified as obese. This gets many of us thinking that if you don’t feed your children the right food when they’re young, are you responsible for their poor health and weight gain later on in life?
New research from Capilano Honey’s Family Nutrition Report showed that confusing dietary information is to blame for a rise in nutritional anxiety among Aussie parents, with more than one in 10 admitting they are baffled by conflicting recommendations around what they should and shouldn’t be feeding their kids.
It probably doesn’t help that we see a great deal in the media about ‘super mums’ making their handmade granola and fresh-from-scratch yoghurt… but the reality is, most of us just don’t have the time! My husband and I are both full-time workers so that’s not necessarily an option for us.
The research, led by Capilano, also found that more than half of parents (52%) often find themselves contending with a fusspot.
Kate: The pressure on parents to be 'everything' is enormous.
I can relate, as I’ve been blessed with two very beautiful, VERY fussy girls. Each morning Chloe (5) and Mia (3) wake up at around 6:00am dying from starvation so it’s a race against time to get their breakfasts organised. Greek yoghurt (believe it or not, we go through 5L a week) and a sliced banana with either Cheerios, Weetbix or porridge is a typical morning dish in our household. One can’t stand the look or taste of porridge and can’t even sit at the same table if it is dished up! While I’m not sure if Mia even likes Greek yoghurt, because her older sister doesn’t mind it, she happily eats it.
Do you think this breakfast choice sounds unhealthy? You would be surprised by how many other parents think it is, especially when they hear the word Cheerios. Being a dietitian, I know how important it is for kids to have a hearty breakfast and in my opinion, Cheerios certainly isn’t the worst choice… it’s a whole grain cereal containing soluble fibre, low in saturated fat, cholesterol free and fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium and vitamin B meeting over 25% of the daily requirements – but that doesn’t stop the rhetorically horrified comments: ‘Do you at least buy the NO added sugar variety?’ or ‘Isn’t that like feeding your kids Fruit Loops?’
No. It’s nothing like giving your child a bowl of sugar, it only contains around one teaspoon per serve and they don’t add sugar to it either! Truth is, they would eat the NO added sugar variety but my eldest loves the original and my youngest prefers the honey flavoured – honestly, it really comes down to whichever option they have available at the supermarket. I’m not alone in swallowing the judgement from other mums and dads – Capilano’s research also found that almost one in five parents have been made to feel guilty about the food they give their child.
An author shares why nightly cooking is a nightmare in her house. (Post continues after audio.)
This happens to me more often than you may think. One of my daughters literally cried when making cupcakes at her kindy recently because she thought she was going to be forced to eat one. I had staff and parents come up to me and question if she was allowed to have cake – of course she is! It was so awkward trying to explain that she genuinely doesn’t like sugary foods. I buy both of my children Kinder Surprises for treats and they unwrap it, throw the chocolate away and play with the toy. We have no idea where it’s come from – my husband and I end up eating the three-day old lollies from the goodie bags handed to them at parties because they just don’t like the sweetness!
At home, we always try and have a wide range of whole foods stocked in the pantry or on the kitchen bench. These are foods made in the ground that are unprocessed and unrefined such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. In addition, we have some other pantry staples that are nutritious in value.
For morning tea, the kids will tuck into some more Greek yoghurt with fruit and sometimes a handful of Cheerios to snack on and then, before you know it, they’re asking for lunch. If we’re at home it will be baked beans and eggs but one of my daughters goes crazy for a multigrain whole-egg mayonnaise sandwich. Yep, you heard me! A good old mayo sanga. Admittedly I’m among the 95% of parents who identified themselves in the report as giving their kids food that isn’t nutritionally ideal just so they will eat. At least it’s multigrain and whole-egg, right? In the afternoon it’s extra fruit or during the warmer months, we opt for smoothies.
Kate Save and her kids.
Then it’s dinner, generally a bit of a rush like every other family with two working parents. When I do put in the extra effort and go super healthy though, they often hate the food. But over time we’ve compromised and I’ve learnt that my girls will eat (and finish!) the following five dishes: ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti bolognese, hamburgers and poached chicken with three veg (they can’t stand the look of meat that has ‘marks’ on it for some weird reason I.E. when it’s been grilled on the BBQ). You might be thinking to yourself, where is the nutritional value? Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure my kids get the nutrients they need.
Hide the veggies
At times it can be a real struggle for parents to feed their kids vegetables. To avoid the witching hour arguments about why carrots or capsicums are healthy for you, I hide the vegetables as best as I can. Spag bol? Easy! In addition to the mince and tinned tomatoes, I also grate zucchini and carrots and finely chop fresh tomatoes, onions and garlic. Similarly with hamburgers, you can build out the batch by buying your own mince and combining in the eggs and grated veggies (they will never know the difference).
Incorporate the whole foods
With all kids being active and burning so much energy, it’s important that lunch boxes are full of whole foods containing an abundance of vitamins and minerals. This gives them the energy to continue on throughout the day, keeping their minds stimulated. With fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, the closer you keep to their original form, the better! I also find that presenting the food in a fun and interesting way gets them eating it quicker (like a slinky apple or blueberry love heart shapes).
Practice good habits
Placing at least one piece of fruit I.E. a banana in their lunchbox each day is a great way to teach healthy habits. Remember, you can only do what you can do – so long as the kids are understanding the core foods and what they need to eat every day to fuel a healthy body, that’s more than enough. Rather than talking to them about good and bad foods, just focus on the good as it instills positive thinking and avoids the endless questions about why they can’t eat the bad food sometimes.
Join in the kids for a baking sesh
If your kids like muesli bars, try making them yourself over the weekend and get them involved in the process. Many of the products available at supermarkets contain hidden nasties so by making your own batch, you know exactly what goes in them. I love including oats, honey and a variety of seeds and nuts. Other go-to recipes we enjoy making are banana and chia seed muffins or healthy whole meal honey date scones – it’s a great opportunity to talk through what ingredients are in them and why they’re healthy for you.
If you don’t have time over the weekend, go for the next best option – if your local grocer has ‘freshly baked fruit loaf or mini fruit muffins’ for sale, at least someone has made them from scratch!
Kate Save is an Accredited Practising (Clinical) Dietitian (APD), Sports Dietitian (ASD) and Exercise Physiologist (AEP). The mother of two is also a Capilano Honey spokesperson and has special interests in metabolic conditions, bariatric surgery nutrition and food allergies/intolerances.