Your Health: 6 ways kids can eat less C.R.A.P. (calorie rich and processed) |

Your Health: 6 ways kids can eat less C.R.A.P. (calorie rich and processed)

Parents should avoid items like chicken nuggets, fries and sugary soda when feeding children.
Getty Images / iStockphoto |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Michael Pollan’s guideline that people should, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” is oft-quoted, but less oft-followed.

Once again, research has demonstrated that Americans actually tend to eat food, too much, mostly things that are no longer recognizable as plants, if in fact they ever were.

A new study published in the BMJ Open found more than half of Americans’ calories come from “ultra-processed foods.” Using data from more than 9,000 people who participated in a nationally representative survey, the researchers found that 57.9 percent of people’s calorie intake, on average, came from ultra-processed foods.

Children are the biggest victims of processed foods. Think lunches, snacks, breakfast cereals, breads, crackers, etc. Here are 6 ideas to clean up your house and help your kids eat better:

“It is our responsibility to teach and model health habits so our kids eat healthy and learn to love real food.”

1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything: Stop reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. The list of ingredients will let you know if the food is highly processed. If what you are buying contains more than five ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items, you may want to reconsider buying it.

2. Increase your consumption of whole foods, especially vegetables and fruits: This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. Think items without a label!

3. When selecting foods like breads, pastas, cereals, rice and crackers, always go for the whole-grain option: Read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains — not a combination of whole grains and refined grains, which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made. The “enriched” white flour or other refined-grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.

4. Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): Also, avoid those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients,” according to Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on whether HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed.”

5. Don’t order off the kid’s menu: The next time your family is out to dinner try to avoid the kid’s menu. Those selections are most often things like pre-made chicken nuggets, fries and pasta made with white flour, among other things. Instead, try assembling some sort of side item plate (like baked potatoes and whatever else your kid will tolerate) and/or try sharing some of your meal.

6. Make your own junk food: Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted french fries then you might not eat them very often. Try making your own cookies — then you know all the ingredients in your treat!

Parents are the gatekeepers of the kitchen. We are in charge of WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. Children determine HOW MUCH. It is our responsibility to teach and model health habits so our kids eat healthy and learn to love real food.

The transition may be much easier than you expect. While kids can be picky, they are also extremely adaptable and resilient. They will see the effects of dietary improvement faster than we do.

In addition, since kids eat three to four times the amount of food per pound of weight as adults, the choices they (and we) make now can and will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Jill Whisler, MS, RD is a nutritionist with Tahoe Forest Health System’s Wellness Neighborhood, promoting Rethink Healthy. The B-FIT theme this month is “Eat Real.” Statistics courtesy of a food scientist interviewed on the documentary “Food, Inc.” For more information, contact Jill at 530-587-3767.

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