The list of ‘things I could be doing better’ always feels so desperately endless. Help the kids with their homework, read more stories, cook healthier dinners… but between running a business, running a home, and trying to have some kind of a life, it can seem overwhelming to find everyone a clean set of clothes, let alone be the kind of mum that cooks regular five star meals.
To be honest, I think I might suffer from a bit of defiance. I see mothers who have the time and energy to run their kids around to twelve different types of sports, who bake everything from scratch and who somehow still manage to look amazing. I resent them and their perfect hair… and I tell myself that I don’t need to change.
But I guess we all have things to learn from each other. And not being ‘perfect’ is no excuse for not trying to be ‘better’. It’s in this spirit, that I wanted to tackle the topic of nutrition and offer 5 quick and easy changes we can make to drastically improve our family’s eating habits… without a massive amount of effort.
Why bother at all? Well… for the same reasons we put suncream on our kids and tell them to get off the road when there’s a car coming. There is simply too much information out there now, to pretend that the highly sugary, highly processed, high fat diets that are ‘normal’ in many households aren’t going to have a devastating impact on their health later.
I honestly believe that there will come a day when we will look at highly processed foods, the way we look at cigarette smoking now. We won’t fathom how we used to eat the things we did, knowing all the poisons they contained.
But where to begin? Please don’t give me a list of fifty things to change in my diet, because I’ll just cry and do NONE of them. How ’bout we start with five small things that even busy mums with bad hair can do, to nudge their families towards better health:
1. Say no to soft drink. We could chat about this for days, but let’s just lay out some quick facts. Did you know that one average can of soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar? The impact on a little body is significant – raising insulin levels, causing dehydration and destroying teeth.
What about ‘diet drinks’, you ask? Well, now you’re dealing with a far worse set of problems. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners used have been linked to hundreds of conditions including seizures, multiple sclerosis, brain tumours, diabetes, and mental health disorders.
So whether it be the phosphoric acid, additives, the fructose load, the empty calories… Just say no. Handy hint: they can’t drink it if you don’t buy it.
2) Buy fresh bread (or bake it, if you’re a show off). Most supermarkets carry a line of freshly baked bread… and surprisingly, it’s often cheaper! Packaged breads are manufactured to last longer and stay fresher. In order to do this, companies pack a cocktail of chemicals into the mix, and what you’re actually serving up for breakfast contains similar ingredients to cleaning products which would make you rush to hospital wailing if your kid ingested.
Check out the back of the next loaf you buy- it will probably have a long list of nasties like chlorine, potassium bromate, dough conditioners, high fructose corn syrup, dangerous sulfates, diglycerides, calcium peroxides… all inside a loaf with a pretty picture of barley fields and misleading labels like “healthy heart”. Shame on you, marketing department.
Flour, water, yeast, and salt. That’s ALL it takes to make bread. Ok, wow, I need to get through this faster….
3) Ice cream isn’t the only desert. When looking for sweet things, it’s worth remembering that there are many alternatives that are just as yummy.
We make banana and strawberry pancakes, drop blueberries and dark chocolate chips into yogurt, blend up a big round of smoothies. Jump on google and find better alternatives to ingredients- like using rice malt syrup (made entirely from brown rice) instead of regular honey…. a sweet tooth doesn’t have to be a curse.
4) Cut down on processed lunchboxes. Ah, this is a tough one. If you nagged me about this in the morning, when I’m trying to get kids out the door after five hours of fitful sleep, I’d probably punch you in the face.
However, for the same reasons as processed bread is dangerous, all food that comes in ‘pretty packets’ is laden with preservatives, additives and – to call them what they are – poisons. The further a food item is from it’s original form (eg. from potato to salty crisps), the more has been done to it, and the more dangerous it is.
Ideally, our kids’ lunch boxes would only be filled with fresh food; but I’m realistic. That ain’t gonna happen. But what I can do is make sure it’s not ALL processed food. Fruit, fresh meat cuts, dinner left overs, fresh salmon or tuna, rice crackers with cheese, bakery treats, yoghurt… I set myself a small challenge to ensure that the fresh food in their lunch boxes outnumbers the stuff in packets.
5) Finally- I believe that we need to educate our kids. If I come across an eyeopening documentary, we watch it. I don’t even mind if it shocks them a bit; ignorance is far more costly long term. We look at ingredients on the back of foods when we’re out shopping. I’ve scooped out ten teaspoons of sugar onto a plate to show them what’s really in a can of coke.
I know some people will disagree with me on this, but the way I see it – I wouldn’t have my kids cross the road with their eyes closed, and I won’t have them be blind about what they’re putting into their mouths either.
Plus, I can’t always be around nagging them to make good choices. The aim of half decent parenting is to raise kids that can make good choices for themselves.
In closing, I’d like to be clear that there is so much room for improvement at my table. We get takeout when I’m tired, we eat way too much pizza and I can’t go without wine. But I’m open to learning and if you’ve got simple ideas to add to this list, please jump in and share. We don’t have to be perfect, but we can all get a little bit better.