Three Simple Steps to Healthy Eating

by Deborah Song

Figuring out what to feed kids can be complicated and stressful.  We are bombarded with advertisements and a plethora of food choices, not to mention the long and esoteric list of ingredients in packaged foods. It seems impossible to decipher the good from the bad.  And not least of all, children between the ages of 18 to 24 months become extremely picky eaters.  But healthy eating, argues food writer Michael Pollan in his book “Food Rules,” can be made simple: Eat real foods.  Mostly plants.  Not too much. 

Eat real food.  Processed and packaged foods contain harmful chemicals and substances.  So try to place real, whole foods in your shopping cart. Shopping the peripheries of a supermarket and avoiding the center aisles where processed foods are displayed will help you do this, says Pollan.  But in today’s demanding world of time constraints, preparing meals from scratch may not always be realistic. When considering premade foods, look for short lists of real ingredients. It’s tough to remember all of the harmful ingredients and their varying names.  So don’t.  As a simple rule of thumb, Pollan advises against eating foods that contain five ingredients or more. Foods with more than five ingredients often have unhealthy chemicals and processed ingredients. Another way to identify real foods is to avoid food products that claim to be healthier.  As counterintuitive as this sounds, foods advertised as low fat or healthy tend to not be.  Companies will usually substitute fat with sugar and salt, for instance, or with carbohydrates and sugars, to enhance taste.

Mostly plants.  In countries where people eat a pound or more of vegetables and fruits a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in United States.  To get a well-rounded meal, says Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Kim Newell, MD, instill the plate method (with lots of color): ½ fruits and veggies, ¼ lean meats, ¼ healthy carbohydrates like whole wheat. Each meal does not have to be exactly balanced, Newell reassures. Instead, aim for balance over a week’s span, keeping in mind that a healthy plate of food will feature several different colors.  If your child is resistant to eating vegetables like most children are, get sneaky and place vegetables where kids won’t notice them.  Hide them by dicing or pureeing them and making a veggie-rich omelette, meat patty or smoothie.  Also, drink spinach water.  Save the water from cooked vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and other healthy plant chemicals, and add it to soup or sauces.

Not too much:  Trust your kids to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full, says Newell.  This may be hard to do because we assume most kids don’t eat enough.  But one of Pollan’s food rules is to stop eating before we feel full and even (dare we say) leave something on your plate.  In other words, don’t force kids to eat everything for the sake of leaving a clean plate.  The latter piece of advice might seem like heresy, especially since many of us have grown up hearing our parents tell us to finish everything and consider the starving children around the world.  But childhood obesity has never been a problem like it is today.  So perhaps it’s time to consider another adage: “It’s better to go to waste than to waist.”  Furthermore, encourage less snacks.  Eating smaller meals and snacking has been long touted as healthy eating behavior but snacks consist of more processed, convenience foods.  Give kids a chance to eat healthy meals.  Offer their meals multiple times if you have to, even after refusal. With rare exception, children will eat when they’re hungry. And don’t forget that portion sizes should diminish as the day progresses.  Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.

Posted on Jul 30, 2014

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