By Karla Gilbert
Karla Gilbert is an accredited Nutrition and Health Coach, and a mum of two girls. She shares her top tips on ensuring your child’s diet is keeping them healthy and happy!
This time of year, it’s especially important to take extra care of our child’s nutrition. We are in the thick of cold and flu season and there is a lot riding on their immune systems to be strong and effective.
Sugar has an immune-suppressing effect as it competes for space in our white blood cells against vitamin C (which we need to fight bacteria and viruses). The more sugar our children eat, the less vitamin C their cells store, therefore leading to a weakened immune system.
There’s strong scientific evidence pointing towards sugar’s negative impact on health, which has led the World Health Organization to reduce its recommendation for sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar per day.
To make things easier I have listed some helpful tactics you can adopt to keep track of your child’s sugar intake.
1. Start with fruit
If it’s snack time and your child is turning their head away from savoury snacks, offer fruit. Try popping your creative hat on to create treats such as fruity ice blocks, ‘pirate sword’ kebabs or fruity ‘fairy wands’.
It is also helpful to notice at certain times if your child is truly hungry or simply choosing something to eat due to boredom or emotional issues. Offering a snack that is low in sugar will be beneficial in maintaining their energy levels.
2. Learn to read food labels
It all begins in the supermarket. If we choose not to read food labels, then we are relying on marketing geniuses to persuade us otherwise. It’s difficult to choose a product on face value, with so many loopholes allowing companies to ride on claims that they are ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. These terms mean nothing if they are stuffed full of sugar and vegetable oils.
The most important tool you can learn is how to read labels on the side of packets. Here is a handy guide to help out.
3. Make your own treats
If you are able to make your own snacks and bakes, then you are controlling the amount of sugar they contain. Most mass-produced food items are targeted towards the greater public… and they like sweet! It’s in our best interest as parents to step away from these products to allow our children’s taste buds’ sugar tolerance levels to stabilise.
4. Cull the desserts
There is no reason for desserts to be offered each night. It teaches your child that they should ‘leave room’ for something potentially better. If your child is genuinely still hungry after a big day then offer some oatmeal, fruit or natural yoghurt for dessert. If they turn their noses up to this, then it’s usually a good indication of their true hunger levels!
Sweet juices and drinks shouldn’t form any part of your child’s everyday diet. Water should always be the first choice. Fruit smoothies are a nutritious way to fuel children using whole fruit, oats and milk – click here for a recipe to try.
6. Watch out for hidden sugars
From sauces, bread, jams, peanut butter, chewy vitamins, biscuits, muesli bars, cereals, and dessert yoghurts, the list goes on.
Healthy eating habits start in the home and as parents, we lead by example. It is important to be conscientious with what foods we choose for our children and there should be early and repeated exposure to foods we wish our children to eat.