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Childhood obesity – it starts with you

Two children eating healthy foodFood for babies and toddlers. Seems like a simple concept? Our once-extended families, which shared skills, have devolved into nuclear families (huge homes with a few people rattling around in them).

Things like sewing, baking, handcrafts, patchwork, crochet and knitting were all needed to make a house a home. Today, these things are hobbies or pastimes. And our homewares are mass-produced items purchased readily.

Whether we get someone else to do it for us or we buy it cooked for us, human beings will always want cooked food. The decline of home cooking, a blindness to the perils of processed food have led us on this alarming slope of obesity.

Society cannot sustain a population of overweight, unfit, and disease-riddled people. With 60 per cent of people now overweight or obese, it’s become a majority problem and we must seek a mainstream answer.

Advertisers, fast-food chains, governments, even the humble tuckshop have all had to shoulder blame and responsibility. But, unless we are robots, the buck really does stop with us as individuals. Healthy lifestyle choices are ours to make but firstly we need to take stock and make just a few small changes. We can easily control what our children eat up to the time they go to school, and there’s always room to improve our own diet.

Who’s paying for the groceries?

Our children? Even if they pop things in the supermarket trolley their piggy-banks won’t get far at the checkout. In essence, it is our weakness as parents which has transformed Australia’s population from a wiry, athletic, outdoor bunch to a slovenly, fat and indoors-based lot. Even 40 years ago, lollies were a treat that kids had to save up for and even then they’d only buy a handful at a time. Nowadays, every kid has enough money to stuff their face with a packet of lollies daily, not to mention their choice of fastfood. Where once children would spend weekends riding bikes or visiting mates, they’re now bound to their digital devices when not playing organised sport.

Have a look at the trolleys at the checkout next time you’re at the supermarket. What’s in them? Frozen food, packaged food, pre-cooked food, sweet biscuits, savoury snacks and chips, white flour, sugar, sweet puddings and dairy desserts, soft-drinks, salt-laden packaged sauces, sugary breakfast cereals. And now there is a proliferation of packaging which appeals directly to children (bright colours, cartoon characters, hand-size portions) you have a slightly harder job being the “trolley monitor”.

Are you getting the picture?

7 tips for a healthy diet for you and your children

Ask yourself these questions at the supermarket

Next time you go shopping, stop and think about every item you are reaching for. Make it a fun task when you go shopping by including the children in the food choices. Print and laminate the list below and make “informed choices” when deciding on purchases.

  • Is the sugar content higher than 5g?
  • Is it processed?
  • Does it contain artificial flavours, colours and preservatives?
  • Is it low in nutrients – empty calories?
  • Is it high in salt?
  • Is there a lot of unnecessary packaging?
  • Does it say ‘light’, ‘lite’ or ‘low-fat’ (if so, PUT IT BACK – THERE ARE HIDDEN SUGARS IN THERE!)
  • Are the ingredients imported?

If you answer YES to more than two question, then it it’s a NO BUY item.

Avoid sugary drinks

Research has recently pointed to the growth of tumours in mice that have been fed a sucrose-high diet. Not good. I know I don’t need anymore evidence that this stuff is just bad news, You are a model for your children – so avoid the drinks aisle at the supermarket and you’ll be better off. Even juice is not necessary and damages tooth enamel and can cause decay if consumed regularly. And there are lots of calories in a glass of juice (which is the product of many pieces of fruit). One piece of fruit is a better option, always.

Cook simple fresh food from scratch

Everything we purchase, we can cook ourselves – WITHOUT THE ADDITIVES AND PRESERVATIVES. Not a great cook? Then starting with a simple guide that helps you prepare meals for your children might be the beginning of a new you. Instilling a love and respect for fresh foods

By changing our attitudes to fresh food, by shunning prepared foods on the whole, we can really start our children on a healthy journey to sound eating habits. Treats are exactly that – treats not for everyday consumption. But, sadly, many have lost touch with what they are putting into their bodies, and this has a direct effect on what they put in the mouths of their offspring. But what example are you setting?

Start by looking at your own habits

If you’re sitting in front of the TV after dinner tucking into crisps, lollies, chocolate or ice-cream – then these are the standard your children will inherit. If you reach for a piece of fruit for dessert, your children benefit.
If you are opening a box of frozen pizza for dinner more than once a month, perhaps it’s time to find out how easy it is to make your own – and let the kids participate in choosing toppings.

Positive experiences with food make for positive lifestyle choices later in life. If children can see their parents buying, preparing, valuing and reaping health benefits from fresh food, they are more likely to shun fast food as a daily option once they leave home. Kids have taste-buds too and they know good food when it’s presented in a positive way.

Don’t offer alternatives meals for your children

The single, most important tip for parents. NEVER fight over mealtimes with toddlers. Prepare the meal and offer it. If it’s not eaten, put it in the refrigerator for later. When your child eventually gets hungry, they will eat just about anything. They won’t starve. But if you constantly pander to their ever-changing food moods, you are embarking on a journey that will never end well. This is the thin edge of the wedge and will leave you tearing your hair out in frustration when their food likes become so limited they can be counted on one hand.

Look for high-nutrient snacks

Most snack foods are devoid of nutrients, high in salt and sugar and flavour enhancers. That’s what makes them taste so more-ish. Try to go for high-nutrient snack – nuts, dried or fresh fruit fruit, cheese, tinned salmon, high-fibre crackers or bread – these can be really satisfying. I used to make a “snack plate” for my son – little bits of everything wholesome – and maybe one or two chips on the side just for fun. Young visitors used to love this!

Don’t buy it – you can’t eat it if it is not there

Yup. It’s that simple. Don’t buy it, don’t stock it, don’t eat it. There’s not much more to tell you. The buck stops well and truly at our pantries. Yes, sometimes I open the pantry or fridge longing for something delicious and decadent to eat, and mostly my fridge turns me away empty-handed. But, I’m eternally grateful as is my waistline.

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