Cooking and eating healthily are two things to aspire to but truthfully, they often fall by the wayside. Worryingly though, 95 percent of Australians don’t consume enough fruit and vegetables in their daily diet.
“In my mind the single greatest thing we can do to improve the health of Australians and particularly of our kids is to make small differences to improve their diets,” Dr Sandro Demaio says, author of The Doctor's Diet.
So where do we start? Of course, we can have noble plans to cook from scratch every single night, with ingredients from the farm down the road, but realistically, family life can get in the way. Here are some of Sandro's no-fuss changes you can slowly make to raise healthy kids.
1. Centre your meals around vegetables
Begin planning meals around your vegetables, instead of meat.
“As Australians we very often think well what's the meat and then what's going to go with it,” Sandro says. “I would recommend you go find the vegetables that you and your family love.”
Then plan what pasta, grains or meat will go with the meal but most of the plate should be taken up with vegetables. This ensures that the stress of thinking about gut, brain, eye and skin health is taken out of the equation, because when you eat a diverse and sufficient range of veggies, you’re already consuming all the vitamins, minerals and proteins essential for healthy bodies.
2. Juice is the enemy
The World Health Organisation recommends that we limit our ‘free sugars’ intake to between five and ten percent, in order to protect our teeth.
“So what does that mean for kids? It basically means no added sugar in our diet, so no refined or concentrated sugars as well,” Sandro explains. “And that would include juices.”
Listen to Sandro on Kinderling Conversation:
One glass of orange juice has the same sugar content as nine oranges. But the fibre, vitamins and minerals are missing, as processed juice sits on the shelf for so long, and requires preservatives, colours and flavours. Instead, opt for good old H2O.
“What I would recommend again is give kids a big glass of water, some milk and also an orange for breakfast instead of nine oranges worth of sugar in a glass of juice.”
Freshly squeezed juices are also an option from time to time, but make sure you dilute it with two thirds of water, and don’t introduce it as a morning ritual.
3. Get kids in the kitchen
Try to get kids in the kitchen with you as early as possible in their life. While this can take time, and can be frustrating, it’s important to associate cooking and food with love and with family. This will then encourage healthy habits in the future, as kids grow up and begin cooking for themselves. Sandro suggests even just adding an extra 20 minutes to cooking a meal once or twice a week, just so they can be involved.
“Evidence shows that if you get your kids into the kitchen you could end up with health benefits from your kids being there,” Sandro says. “They will actually start to kind of reverse nag you to do things that you know are better for your health.”
4. Read the ingredients list
Really read the ingredients list of processed products. If you don’t understand the 26-letter words, or the numbers they’ve written on the back, walk on by.
“The reason that we process a lot of foods these days is to increase their shelf life or to decrease the cost of making them,” Sandro explains. “It gets to a point eventually where the foods actually start to lose their nutritional value and it's very often the major source of hidden salt, unhealthy fats and sugars in our diet.”
“Start with whole foods rather than products and that way you know what's going into it.”
5. Sit down as a family
It sounds very romantic, and Sandro recognises it’s difficult, but wherever possible, families should find time to eat as a family a couple of times a week. Put all the phones, screens and other distractions away. Not only does it help you communicate better, but Sandro explains that research has proven we eat slower if we’re eating in a social setting.
“We're more likely to eat less, have the time for our brains to catch up with our stomachs to know that we're full, and we're actually more likely to waste less food.” Sandro says. “All of these kinds of what we call co-benefits come out from something that fundamentally is really fun to do if you can find the time.”
6. Choose nutritious fish
80 percent of global fish stocks are now either at capacity or are overfished. Try to buy local wherever you can, as it’s going to taste better.
Sandro recommends buying smaller fish that are lower in the food chain, particularly white fish such as whiting and flathead. They’re really high in protein, healthy fats and iodine. The other positive is that these are both not as ‘fishy’ in taste, so it’s a great seafood introduction for kids, plus flathead doesn’t have the bones.
7. Cook flexible food
Don’t get hung up on following a recipe with a million specific ingredients. Instead, choose what is fresh, what you already have at home and work with that. Risottos, pastas, soups and frittatas are great for this, and are also delicious for leftovers.
This flexibility makes it easier to stick to healthy habits, Sandro says. “As soon as you start putting extra expectations on yourself, on an already busy family, then within a few days it's all over and you've gone back to the old ways for sure.”
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