This weekend my son has a hockey tournament in another city. It's his first tournament and he's very excited to stay in a hotel with his teammates. But rather than asking who they're playing and what he and his friends will do at the hotel after their games, he seemed to have but one thing on his mind:
"Mama, if everyone else is eating junk can I have, too?"
Oh gawd. I felt horrible. Have I really been that bad of a mother, forcing him to eat broccoli for dessert? Have I ever denied him a piece of cake at a birthday party? Just because I don't always allow them to eat fries at McDonalds, just because there isn't a single bag of chips in our pantry, just because I bake homemade cookies (with almond flour and no butter or sugar) doesn't mean he's never had anything packaged, processed or made with real granular white sugar.
I'll admit, perhaps I take things a bit too far. Perhaps I'm a bit more careful than I ought to be. I want my kids to be healthy and I try my best to feed them thoughtfully and healthfully whenever I can. But at the same time, why should I apologize for limiting junk or even calling unhealthy food junk for that matter? Why is a birthday party, play date or hockey tournament an automatic excuse to stuff a child's face with crap?
For help with some answers, I recently spoke to Lauren Breuer, a wholistic nutritionist, certified personal trainer and owner of Shockingly Healthy, a line of healthy brownies and cookies made with superfoods, like chickpeas, cocoa and flaxseed.
"Adults might have the willpower to avoid unhealthy foods, whereas kids don't," says Breuer. "But it's actually easier than you think to help your kids eat healthier at home and at parties."
Here, Breuer offers some tips to help parents looking to cut back on the junk.
Tip 1: When baking treats at home, use healthy substitutions
"I use healthier sweetness, such as coconut sugar or coconut nectar, which have a lower glycemic index than sugar," says Breuer. You can also switch flour, add ground flax, sneak in pureed vegetables, or even just reduce the amount of sugar called for in a typical recipe. She says better flours include chickpea flour, which has more fibre and and protein than white flour, or quinoa flour, which is also more nutrient dense. Believe it or not, chickpea puree and pureed spinach have a neutral flavour can be disguised in some treats, such as peppermint brownies. (She has experimented with recipes over the years and features them all on her blog at shockinglyhealthy.com)
Tip 2: Start with a healthy breakfast to balance out the day
If you know your kid is going to want to eat junk at a hockey tournament, feed them a healthier breakfast. "Make sure their first meal includes protein, fibre and vegetables to stabilize their blood sugar," says Breuer. "And give them a healthful snack before they go to a party so they aren't starving when they show up." If you're going to a potluck or were asked to bring a dessert, consider baking something healthy to increase the options available.
Tip 3: Think first
Before you eat, think about what the food is going to do for you, says Breuer. "Avoid empty calories. Plain white sugar is the emptiest; you get nothing from it." She says our bodies crave nutrient dense foods, and we feel hungry if we don't feed our body what it wants. "Good foods give us energy whereas sugar makes us crave more sugar when our blood sugar spikes and crashes." If we model good eating and talk to our kids about which foods are good and bad, they will learn to eat healthier foods and choose to limit junk.
Even with this great advice, I'm rather nervous about the weekend. I'm hoping I've given my son enough knowledge to help him make positive eating choices. I'm hoping he'll enjoy whatever junk food there is without eating too much. But as a back up plan, I might whip up a few of Breuer's treats and feed him something healthy in advance.
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