Anita Apel, nutritionist at the Organic Foods & Cafe, looks at some common food myths, and offers her tips on feeding the family a healthy, balanced diet.
There’s no shortage of information out there when it comes to feeding your family a healthy, balanced diet – however, there’s also no guarantee that foods marketed towards children tick all the correct nutritional boxes. In fact, some kid-friendly fare is downright unhealthy, and it’s always advisable to read the labels on so-called ‘health foods‘, which could still be packed with sugars, salt and flavourings. Anita Apel, on-site nutritionist at Organic Foods & Cafe, who runs workshops and a schools‘ outreach programme for child nutrition, explains the common pitfalls that many parents fall prey to when it comes to rustling up healthy meals for growing kids.
Avoid if you can
Whether you’re buying from the supermarket or dining out, never assume that kids‘ food is healthy. Bright colours and fun pictures often disguise the fact that they are full of sugar, preservatives and colours, and ingredients that are so processed, they bear little nutritional value whatsoever. Kids‘ cereals, for example, can contain between five and 40 grams of sugar per serving. It only takes a few seconds to read the nutritional facts on the label to know what you’re buying and to make an informed decision.
A common mistake is to assume that fruit juices are healthy and count towards a child’s five-a-day. Concentrated juices often contain added sugar, while a 250ml glass of fresh orange juice is both sugary and very acidic. Water is best, but if you must give your child juice, mix it with at least 50 percent water. Similarly, tomato sauces can also be very acidic and high in sugar too.
Processed foods should be avoided whenever possible. A popular item in kids’ lunchboxes, processed meat often contains chemicals and preservatives – conventional salami and cured meats, for example, get their pink colour from nitrisalt, which has been found to be a carcinogen when eaten in high quantities.
Only in moderation
Know the facts when it comes to the foods and ingredients you buy – even some healthy meals, drinks and snacks should not be consumed every day, so read the labels carefully.
While plain and unsweetened yoghurts are high in calcium and a good addition to kids’ diets, avoid fruit flavours and yoghurts aimed at kids. These are often full of sugars and more of a dessert or treat than a healthy snack. Likewise, cheese is a staple in many lunchboxes, but don’t fall for the yellow, processed varieties, which often contain very little nutritional value and lots of added preservatives.
Some foods should only be eaten in moderation. Spinach, for example, is wrongly reputed to be high in iron, a nutritional myth that’s been around since the 1970s. While it does contain nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E and K, zinc and niacin, it also contains high levels of oxalic acid, which can interfere with the body’s absorption of calcium.
Kids need protein to enable their bodies to grow, but avoid feeding them animal-based proteins such as chicken, meat or fish on a daily basis, and look towards other high-protein sources such as beans and lentils.
Fish such as tuna should only be eaten in moderation, as it can contain high levels of heavy metals. Soy-based products should also not be eaten every day, and always ensure that they are organic and GMO-free.
And with mineral waters, while it’s important to keep children hydrated, the trace minerals and pH levels of different brands of water can vary. Aim for a higher level of calcium and magnesium, a lower level of sodium, and a pH level of seven or above.
Healthier than you think
Not all convenience food should be avoided. Pizza, for example, can be very nutritious if you pay attention to the toppings. Opt for a whole grain base, and top with fresh tomato sauce with fresh oregano, basil and thyme, plus fresh cheese, such as mozarella, manouri or goats cheese (don’t go for the ready-grated varieties), and fresh raw vegetables and mushrooms. And while deep-fried, ready made chips should not be on the menu, it’s cheap and simple to make homemade potato chips in your oven that aren’t saturated with fats and added salt.
Anita Apel offers free nutrition consultations at Organic Foods & Cafe’s Jumeira Beach Road Branch. She also offers regular family-friendly workshops and in-school education sessions. To find out more, go to www.organicfoodsandcafe.com, call 04 338 2911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Essential nutrition checklist
• Food for kids should be age-appropriate and nutritionally balanced. That means it must include essential carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and enough water.
• Monitor portion size, both on their plate and in their lunchbox, so you don’t run the risk of overfeedng your kids.
• Aim for superfoods that have a high nutrition density – this means that per 100g, you are looking for foods that contain nearly all the important nutrients, such as quinoa.
• Never push kids to eat when they refuse their food or don’t want to finish. You need to look at any underlying reasons why they won’t eat.