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Mama Bear’s Top Ten Tips for Happy Healthy Eaters

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Most of us moms are familiar with the scary stats on rising rates of obesity in the US, it’s true.  Yet in between the constant stream of homework, play dates and little league, it’s not something we generally worry about day-to-day.

But here’s the troubling thing; certain influential entities are lurking and we parents need to stay on our toes. Now that might appear accusatory and even sinister coming from a cheery gal like myself, but I’m talking about corporations that are actively targeting their junk food ads to kids.

Sound crazy?  Think again; food industry CEOs aren’t forking out their billions (yes that’s billions with a b) in annual advertising strategies aimed at our children for nothing.  And they’re lobbying Congress like crazy to make sure nobody stands in their way. Even though I was already familiar with this issue, it wasn’t until I was doing the research for Beanalicious Living, pouring through tons of information, that I really got it.  Junk food is everywhere!

It’s so accessible it’s hard to avoid, but here’s the other thing (second to the kids are consumers in training thing), kids are also suffering from early signs of obesity, diabetes and even heart disease before we can see the symptoms.  That’s where the rising rates of obesity affects us, even when it’s not obvious.

The great news is, we can change all that, at least in our families.  Sure the big food corporations are out there passing off blue dye in cereal as blueberries and proclaiming it healthy, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe them!  No, it’s up to us mamas to check this right now.

The eating habits and food preferences we develop as kids often stay with us throughout our lifetimes.  We can start by updating the menu with healthy home cooked, whole foods while cutting back on the junk.  Here are Mama Bears Top Ten Tips for Happy, Healthy Eaters:

1. Think outside of the package.  Choose whole foods like fresh fruit or chopped vegetables, nuts or even whole grain snacks that are free of chemicals and food preservatives.  Need some “no time to cook” suggestions?  Try these healthy snacks.

2. Substitute healthier versions of highly refined favorites.  You may not be ready to give dried cereal the kibosh completely, but until then, focus on products containing whole grains, low sugar, no artificial dyes, additives or ingredients.

3. Plan Ahead.  With all the running around parents do, it’s easy to get caught unprepared for hungry kids with no healthy options in sight.  Be sure to have healthy snacks like whole grain pretzels, fresh fruits, carrot sticks or homemade granola.

4. Nutrify on the sly with healthy, homemade smoothies.  Let’s face it, relying on good choices at lunch time with no parent present is a crap shoot, but you can make sure they’re well -fortified before they leave for school at least.

5. Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes and other health issues.  It lurks in surprising places:  yogurt, bread, cereal and salad dressing are all common culprits, so be sure to carefully read the labels!

6. Teach them why it’s important!  Kids understand the reasons for healthy eating; they’ll feel better, health is linked to happiness too.   While I tend to be vocal and factual with my kids about junk food industry advertising shenanigans, you may not want to get into all that.  With the constant exposure our kids are getting to junk food ads, you’ll have to be consistent and repetitive for your message to be heard, but it’s worth it!

7. Cook with your kids, or better yet, encourage them to tackle it all on their own.  They’ll gain confidence in the kitchen and they’re far more likely to eat it when they prepared it themselves.

8. Cut back on sugar. The American Heart Association’s recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day; for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily; and for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.  Unfortunately, the average American eats about 22 teaspoons per day so read your labels, or better yet, go packageless!

9. Gradually introduce new food options.  Taste buds are adjustable, but the process requires patience and persistence.  Kids (and grownups) like the foods they’re used to, so introduce the new ones in a variety of ways, and keep working on it until it adjustment sets in.  Mashed sweet potatoes might seem too yucky at first, but baked into crispy fries they’re appealing enough to try, hopefully like and gradually become familiar with in all kinds of new preparations now that the scary novelty is gone.

10. Allow treats, just be discriminating.   Treats like Newman’s Organics shouldn’t be everyday fare if you’re managing sugar intake, but deprivation is never encouraged, so downsize gradually if you should, and dispense prudently as you can.   Even the most persistent among us know we can’t keep the junk entirely at bay, so don’t stress over it.  Any progress you make is a step in the right direction!

Now I know this list is extensive, and probably not all if it applies to you depending on your child’s age and preferences.  But adopting these changes will absolutely make a difference in your family’s overall health and energy level, and with kids, often their temperaments too.  Start with those that are easiest and move further into the realm of better health as it makes sense for you.  The positive benefits will leave you glad you did!

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