Ever since I’ve known my husband he’s been a “clean” eater. He’s a part of why we stopped eating at fast food restaurants and he likes to remind me (often) to not buy sugary foods at the grocery store. Since I don’t buy soda for my kids, or fruit juices, I thought I was doing really well. As I shop, I buy things as “treats.” Maybe this time I’ll buy cookies and ice cream, and next time I’ll buy chips.
I follow the 80/20 rule in pretty much everything in my life (I’ll blog about that soon) and that includes my snacks. If I’m eating 80 to 90 percent healthy all the time, those occasional snacks are fine. When it comes to my kids, I’m definitely more worried about cavities than anything else so I like to limit their access to sugar – or so I thought.
The other day on Facebook, a mom friend of mine shared two photos. One was of her breakfast and the other was her son’s breakfast. Hers was eggs and some other healthy items. His was powdered donuts, marshmallows and mini pre-baked muffins (processed foods and sugar). I don’t say this to judge or mom shame (we certainly have enough of that in this world), I’m telling you this because it was my ah-ha moment! She had some clever hashtags about healthy eating and goals and I laughed, thinking “I’ve done that.” And then I stopped and realized in horror I’VE DONE THAT! And in fact, I’m not so innocent still.
For the last week I’ve been working at home full-time. There are a lot of perks (and downsides) to working from home. One perk is that you truly watch what your kids are eating after school. My 16-year-old does pretty well – he just eats everything in sight. But I noticed that my 9-year-old “snacks.” But he doesn’t just snack here and there, he pulls those treats and makes a meal out of it. Now I know why he takes so long to eat dinner!
Those occasional treats turned into second lunch or pre-dinner. He’d pull out a jello and since he can only have one jello a day, he’ll pull out chips. He can only have so much of that a day so then next he goes for ice cream. He was definitely following my portion rules, but instead of grabbing beef jerky or carrots, he’d go for another treat. Since I feed him breakfast, make his lunch and my husband cooks dinner, I thought my children were eating extremely healthy. That was until I saw how much snacking he was doing after school. It was A LOT!
Why does it matter?
Cavities and expensive dental bills aside, let me pull this quote from an article I was reading on this topic:
A child who is deprived of healthy foods or given too many unhealthy foods can face decades of physical and mental health problems.
Between birth and the age of 8, children (as we moms know) grow at a rapid pace! The article talks about their teeth growing in, the bones requiring calcium and how children have more water in their bodies and need more water than adults to not become dehydrated. But what I found to be really important was how their brain cells are developing.
Children’s brain cells develop thousands of connections and a protective sheath, myelin, grows around developing nerves throughout their bodies. Children need iron in their diets, which can be found in foods such as tuna and whole wheat bread, so their bodies can manufacture myelin.
Long-term health problems
The article addresses the problem of children not getting enough food (something I also see in adults who think starving themselves will help them lose weight). For the purpose of this post, I want to talk about what happens when they eat the kind of breakfast I highlighted above:
A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, “Childhood Obesity,” notes that the number of overweight teens has tripled since 1980. These teenagers are making unhealthy choices, such as regularly consuming soda and French fries — a diet high in sugar and saturated fats. As obese adults, they are developing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, asthma and other health problems.
I feel like it’s easy to ignore the “diabetes” warning because they are so little and may not yet show signs of this disease. But ask any diabetic what their life is like, and they’ll tell you the difficulties. It’s not something you’d wish on your child.
Health complications at a young age
But it’s not just their future health you have to be worried about. Giving them processed foods and sugar will hurt them now!
Children’s immune systems are underdeveloped, which makes them prone to infection. When considering a child’s diet, it’s important to know what to include and what not to include in order to avoid illness. Most processed foods contain white sugars, white flours, artificial sweeteners or food colorings that can leave the body weak those foods provide little nutritional value. Thus, eliminating junk foods will leave room in the diet for fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which boost the immune system.
Forming healthy habits now
I recently talked about how children watch what we do and they mimic our behaviors. So I applaud moms and dads who are eating healthy, but if you put marshmallows in front of your child and give him that for breakfast, why wouldn’t he want the same breakfast the next day? And the day after that? Not only does a child’s body need the healthy food TODAY, what we feed our children now is shaping their habits for when they’re adults. If you need to be eating, it’s even more important for your child to eat healthy.