Healthy Eating Top Tips
Helen Burgess, Founder of Little Cooks Co, the UK's first healthy cooking kit for children.
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Having personally experienced the powerful effect of choosing a good diet on my health, when my son was born in 2013 I wanted him to have the best possible start in life, like every other parent I know! The question was what was the best food for him. The advice was conflicting and sometimes contradictory. My quest took me to the College of Naturopathic Medicine, and I enrolled on their three year nutrition course.
I learned, among many other things, the importance of child nutrition. During this time of phenomenal growth and development a child needs the best building blocks for a good start - as an example, 90% of our brain capacity develops before the age of 5 years so ensuring a diet rich in choline (found in eggs) and essential fatty acids (found in oily fish) is crucial.
Yet there are so many things in life that make it difficult for kids to eat well - intense junk food marketing, "kids' menus" (why should the best food be reserved for adults), conflicting advice, confusing marketing of so-called 'healthy' food, fussy eating, money, time . . . . the list goes on. However the worryingly rapid rise in childhood obesity and childhood diabetes shows that we are facing some very serious problems.
My mission is to help encourage healthy eating habits from an early age. To incorporate as much natural food as possible and as little processed, refined food whilst still keeping food prep quick and manageable for busy parents. I apply the 80/20 principle. Life is about balance. We blame ourselves enough as parents without punishing ourselves every time our kids enjoy some cake or sweets! Here are a few of my top tips:
• Incorporate smoothies into your week - a cup of strawberries, a chunk of cucumber (skin removed if preferred), half a banana, and a sprig of mint whizzed up in a blender with a cup of milk tastes like strawberry milk shake.
• Replace breakfast cereals with porridge and mashed banana, cinnamon and honey if your kids like a sweeter taste. This stabilises blood sugar and provides slow release energy.
• Gradually ease away from fizzy drinks and sweetened juices and replace with water, herbals teas or diluted juice. This is where my relationship with the brilliant Small and Wild started – when I spotted their happy herbal teas for children I knew it was a winning idea. I quickly ordered some to try with my son who LOVED it (particularly the Snoozy Fox blend because of the colour it turns the tea!) and we have been strong advocates (and friends) of Becky and Kate’s ever since.
• Slowly move away from refined grains replacing them with whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice etc.
• Eat a rainbow. Let the kids decide how to create this - tomatoes, orange pepper, sweet corn, cucumber, beetroot followed by grapes. Actually there are hardly any blue foods but plants absorb the blue rays of the spectrum so you could say blue is hidden in green!
• Cook with your kids - this not only teaches them a lifeskill that will sustain them for the rest of their lives, it helps overcome fussy eating.
• Swap spreads and margarines for grass-fed butter. Good fats are essential for a healthy brain and nervous system, and to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Serving veggies with melted butter transforms even the humble cabbage!
• Eat organic and seasonal where possible. This is especially true of animal products where there is a higher exposure to hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals which find there way into the food. For guidance google ‘the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen’.
• Finally sleep! While we sleep our stress and so cortisol levels drop; our immune systems get stronger; our brains process complex information, consolidate memories and clear out toxins; and we release important hormones such as growth hormones - essential for kids!