We all know that it’s important to eat healthy food. Nutritious food choices give us energy and make us feel good. Food packed with nutrients and vitamins is an essential building block that helps young bodies grow and young brains develop, and can reduce our risk of a long list of diseases.
So why is it that, in 2014, only 39.5% of Canadians (to Statistics Canada) eating fruits and vegetables at least five times a day? In Nova Scotia, that rate was an abysmal 30.9%! In 2016, the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that processed foods with low-nutritional quality made up more than 60% of the average Canadian’s diet.
As a parent, I know how hard it is to feed my child healthy food. It requires lots of resources to eat healthy: money to buy healthy food as well as time and energy for preparation. In some communities, access to healthy food is severely limited. For many people, these can be the deal-breakers that lead us to making unhealthy choices.
To kids, healthy choices can seem like NO FUN! Our kids are surrounded by an abundance of unhealthy processed foods in exciting and colourful packages. These foods are promoted through extreme marketing campaigns to entice our kids. Food manufacturers can be deceptive, using terms like ‘all natural’, ‘fresh’ or ‘reduced sugar’. Children are particularly susceptible to these clever tricks. There is also peer pressure about these foods that can make it hard for your child to enjoy a healthy school lunch. And what if your child is a picky eater!
So – what can you do to make healthy eating fun while helping your child become more food literate and media savvy?
Help your child to understand healthy food choices
Today’s processed food items frequently contain high amounts of sugars, fats and salt. Show your child how to read the labels on food (with that tiny print!). Take some time at the grocery store to compare different products and have conversations about additives and unhealthy ingredients. Create a grocery store scavenger hunt, once you’ve introduced a few ‘bad things’ to look for, and have them hunting for things like fructose and sodium chloride (salt). Which product can they find with the highest salt level?
Talk about marketing
The processed food industry spends millions of dollars marketing their products to our children using pervasive and clever techniques. Marketing campaigns are relentless, reaching our kids on a daily basis with celebrity endorsements, attractive packaging, free toys and ads/product placement in TV shows, films and video games. Once you’ve had a chat about marketing, challenge your child to be on the lookout. Ask them to tell you about an ad they’ve seen and how the ad tried to appeal to them.
Help your child have fun with food
Especially for kids in urban centres, it’s hard to see where healthy food comes from. Grow a garden or herb box together. Take your child to a community garden or a farmer’s market.
Empower your child to make healthy choices by including them in meal selection and preparation. Show them how to make good food fun by making fruit kabobs, veggies with dip and other yummy creations. I like this site, this cookbook and this cookbook for healthy kids’ meals.
There are some apps and games for kids that make healthy food fun. Froogie is a made-in-Nova Scotia free app that allows your child to track their fruit and veggie intake. Choosemyplate is an American website with games, activity sheets and other tools to make healthy food fun.
Try to be a good food role model. I struggle a bit with this one as I don’t eat enough veggies and I often bring home Skittles (my vice!). Remember that your kids will be influenced by the foods you buy, serve and during their early years as they learn to make their own good food decisions.