Today I want to talk about what we feed our children. I know that it is an incredibly heated topic, one that can really make people (parents, I mean) defensive and emotional. I know that 99% of the time, the defences used will be something along the lines of…
“I just CANNOT get him/her to eat anything else.”
“There is NO WAY that we can get him/her to eat the veggies.”
“I’m too tired, and it’s so much easier to give him/her what he/she wants.”
I know, because I’ve used these lines myself.
But let’s be real with ourselves here. We are facing an epidemic on a scale never seen before. Our children are becoming increasingly obese. In Australia alone, “the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered overweight or obese.” (From betterhealth.vic.gov.au). And in adults the statistics are even more shocking. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “in 2011-12, 62.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese.”
Considering such ominous stats and facing the reality of being surrounded by an unwholesome food environment and culture, we decided to speak to someone who knows much more about how important it is to eat well, who is an expert in her field. We asked Iman Salam, who has three grown children of her own, from Afiya Live Well to answer a few questions about the importance of eating nutritious food and instilling good eating habits in our children.
What impact does eating ‘bad food’ (e.g. highly processed, high in sugar, soft drinks etc.) have on children’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being?
Junk food has a highly addictive nature for children. Although it can look appealing and of course taste great, children simply do not realise the ill effects it has on their health, as well as on their growing bodies. The physical complications are many; obesity, diabetes, chronic illness, low self esteem, and even depression.
As for mental and spiritual well-being eating a diet heavy in unhealthy foods including low nutrient dense foods can be a cause of behavioural and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression and stress.
What are some of the problematic eating habits amongst families that you have seen?
First of all not eating as a family. I’ve heard of families grabbing food and everyone eating in their own corner, on their phone, or in front of the tv. This not only causes a breakdown in family relations but eating in front of an electronic device creates an unhealthy relationship with food as well as a habit of mindless eating.
Second, the emphasis put on finishing your plate, food as reward, etc creates a long-lasting negative relationship with food. Often times being forced to clean our plates as children develops into emotional eating, overeating, and eating disorders. A healthy way to start each meal is to remember to praise God, make the intention to get the most benefit out of the meal and start with a small serving. Just as important is listening to your body and knowing when to stop before you get full. *Editor’s addition: Children have an innate ability to know when they are full, and will often assert when they have eaten enough. It is usually the adults who push them to eat more, thus breaking this natural instinct to stop eating when full.
How can parents instil positive eating habits in their children?
Children learn from seeing so therefore setting an example is the best way to teach our children. We have to remember that our food is a blessing and it starts long before it gets to our dining table. Teaching children the value of food and where it comes from is important. It helps to reconnect the child to mother earth and have a deeper appreciation for nature as well as the food that is put into their bodies. Being involved in a local CSA or visiting your local farm is a beautiful thing to do as a family. It’s also extremely rewarding for the soul. Don’t be afraid to get your kids to help in the kitchen, give them small tasks that they can do to help prepare dinner. This will give them a sense of ownership and pride and make them more likely to eat what they’ve helped in preparing.
What types of food should children not be eating?
SUGAR!!!!! (artificial). You would be surprised to learn that it’s in everything, even toothpaste. Be aware of the different names for sugar. I know what you’re thinking, “it’s hard to avoid.” If you focus on what is in your control, your own home, then when kids are at their grandparent’s house or at a birthday party, you won’t feel so bad that they are most probably going to eat sugar. Cut back on the amount of meat and milk as tons of hormones are injected into these animals and this is causing life-long damage on their growing bodies.
Which foods have the best nutritional value for children?
It’s important to keep in mind that children need a diet containing a variety of foods. Protein, Carbohydrates, and good fats are all essential for their growing bodies. When choosing animal protein look for grass fed, free range, organic meats. And keep in mind that protein can come from other foods as well, beans, legumes, and dark leafy veggies. Aim to have one night a week meat free.
Aim for five servings of fruits and veggies each day, but keep in mind that portion size will differ depending on your child and their activity level. If your child isn’t a fan of veggies sneak them into a smoothie. Get creative with veggies, you’ll often be surprised with what your child will love. *Editor’s addition: Don’t hold back from offering them new vegetables. The worst that could happen is that they don’t eat it, the best is that they try it, and like it.
Some good sources of carbs include whole wheat pasta and breads, barley, acorn squash and green peas. Healthy fats include avocado, ghee, and salmon (look for non-farmed options, which you can ask the shop owners about).
Don’t get too stressed with picky eaters, do your best and aim for at least one healthy meal a day.
How important is it to eat organic foods?
Eating organic foods is important in this day and age. Yet, no doubt, it can get expensive. Decide what you can and cannot afford for your family’s needs and work accordingly within those boundaries. Being educated on the ill-effects of consuming non-organic meat is important. If that means cutting back on meat, then do what you think is best for your family. As Muslims we are held accountable for the food we eat and that includes the care of animals. When it comes to whether something is deemed “halal”, we often forget that it includes more than just the way the animal is slaughtered but how it was raised and the conditions it was in before being slaughtered. *Editor’s note: It is important to consider and understand that if an animal has been raised and slaughtered in a stressful environment, it will affect its body, and therefore its meat. If we then eat this meat from a stressed and anxious animal, it does affect our own spiritual, mental and physical well-being. Eating does have a spiritual dimension, and we cannot disregard this.
When it comes to things like fruits and veggies, there are some that have more pesticides sprayed on them than others. These are the worst contaminated fruits and vegetables:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (Imported)
If you can stay clear of these and focus on organic, great! Otherwise a great tip that helps reduce the dirty film is a solution of vinegar and water (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar is most effective).
Can you give us some ideas for a healthy (and easy to put together) lunchbox?
- My kids love hummus! I mean, who doesn’t 🙂 Hummus wraps with cucumber and bell pepper.
- Tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread. I like to use Avocado (insert heart eyes) mash, instead of mayo.
- Whole wheat pasta with pumpkin.
- Lentil soup.
- Quinoa with chopped tomato,cucumber, and added black beans.
- Sweet potato and black bean burrito bowl.
Iman Salam is an American currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her desire for a better lifestyle and health led her to study integrative nutrition. She holds a Diploma in Preventative Health & Nutrition, Executive Master’s in Preventative Health and Nutrition, and is a certified Personal Trainer. Currently, she works as a Nutrition Consultant and is studying to be a Practitioner in Prophetic medicine. Her goal is to revive the sunnah of well-being by encouraging the beneficial practices of prophetic medicine. Iman is the producer and host on DOPStv YouTube show “Afiya Live Well”, a program that promotes the Prophetic diet, nutrition, and overall well-being of the body
Featured image via Hideaki Hamada.