No one sets out planning to feed their kids junk food. But there are never enough hours in the day, and pester power, tantrums and stubbornness often win against the best-intentioned parents. Even getting everyone to sit around a table for mealtimes is often a struggle.
In this post, I explore how even if you have a fussy eater on your hands or are pressed for time, it’s still worth making the effort to get your kids back on track with their nutrition. Whether you have a fussy toddler or a tricky teenager on your hands, it is never too late to feed them The Good Stuff.
Fussy eating can be only the start of war at the dinner table, and busy parents often take the easy route, feeding their kids familiar things like chicken, pasta, cucumber, apple juice and yoghurts as they are too rushed and too tired to argue. Others turn to convenience food and simply see food as fuel to keep them and their children going through the day, with little thought to how it affects them more broadly or in the longer term.
Research shows that our shopping trollies are now over half-full of ultra-processed convenience foods such as pasta sauces, cereals, biscuits and crisps, and these have mainly displaced fresh and more nutritious food such as meat, eggs, butter, fruits and vegetables. In our busy lives, cooking from scratch has been ditched for ready-made options. However, research also shows that home cooking is one of the best ways to keep your family happy, healthy and well.
Feeding children the good stuff can be tricky, and worrying figures are showing that most parents are not yet winning. 80% of kids are still not eating their ‘Five A Day’ and it is reported that 95% of teenagers are veg-dodgers. And what is worse, many parents have given up entirely on getting greens into their kids.
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If you eat a diet relying on ultra-processed foods and refined sugars, then it is likely you are going to eat less of the good stuff in your diet, as there is only a certain amount of food that we can eat each day. As well as displacing nutrient-dense foods, it is also thought that the more processed and refined foods both deplete nutrients from other foods that have been eaten, and steal from the body’s nutrient stores, just to be able to digest them.
It is also thought that overly-processed food has a systemic pro-inflammatory effect on our brain cells and metabolism, and this can be a catalyst for mental health issues, attention problems and metabolic problems like diabetes. Eating too many overly processed foods can also be a big factor behind weight gain in children.
Inflammation can be detected in the blood very early on in life and it is well established that inflammatory markers found in nine-year-olds can predict depression developing in teenagers. And, since a quarter of fourteen-year-old girls in the UK now suffer from high symptoms of depression, it is never more important to get the diet right for our children. The adolescent brain is still maturing well into the mid-twenties, so while the earlier the better, it is never too late to start educating your kids on positive nutrition and feeding your family more of the good stuff.
On A More Positive Note!
Large studies of kids and teenagers associate healthy eating with a broad range of positive outcomes from healthier weight and stronger immunity to better mental health and even greater creativity and stronger friendships.
Whether you have a picky three-year-old or a stroppy fourteen-year-old, it’s still worth making the effort to get your kids back on track with their nutrition.
Work towards these ideals and, trust me, you will begin to see a change in your children. To start with you will probably see sparkier eyes, a healthier colour in their cheeks and they will simply seem happier and more robust. Gradually they may start to lose their sugar cravings, be ill less often, sleep better, have comfier tummies, have greater concentration skills, feel calmer and they will be much less likely to put on unwanted weight.
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- ‘Ultra-processed’ products now half of all UK family food purchases.
- Association of serum interleukin 6 and C-reactive protein in childhood with depression and psychosis in young adult life: a population-based longitudinal study. Khandaker GM1 et al.
- Patalay P & Fitzsimons E. Mental ill-health among children of the new century: trends across childhood with a focus on age 14. September 2017
- Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy. Sara B. Johnson et al.