I’m passionate about a lot of things, as most mothers are, particularly when it comes to our children’s well-being.
There are 1001 things that matter and it can be overwhelming trying to keep up with the latest “best advice” on what your child really needs for health, happiness and success.
But although the situations vary for each family, one aspect is the same for us all: Good nutrition matters for each and every child.
In growing children whose developing brain, organs and nervous system are being built cell by cell during infancy and early childhood, nutritious food lays the groundwork for a healthier life.
A recent study from the University of Bristol, UK suggests that early childhood eating habits – especially until the age of three, “may play a role in shaping the development of the brain, and thus affect behavior, learning performance and IQ in later life.”
From birth to 3 years old, your baby’s brain is growing faster than at any other time of life. That’s why it is one of the most important nutritional times of life. But smart eating starts even earlier than that. Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy can boost your child’s IQ by up to 3.5 points, according to a new study from NYU. Omega-3s are directly related to brain and nervous system development. Good sources are fish, fish oil, walnuts and flax.
One of the most important things any mother can do is to create healthy eating habits for your family. It’s not as hard as you may think to make the transition to better nutrition.
1. It’s a myth that good food tastes bad.
Healthy eats have come a long way from the 70s style “it’s good for you, so eat it and try to ignore the taste” meals my mom used to give me and my siblings. Gourmet Mamas now have a wider variety and better foods to choose from than ever before.
2. Start with healthy substitutes.
So you’re not such a healthy eater. Who is? Now is the time to start. Begin with simple things: Choose brown rice over white rice, whole oats over instant oatmeal. Whole fresh foods are always more nutritious than processed foods, and will fill you up longer. Choose fresh over canned. Sugary sodas have ten teaspoons of sugar in each can! Trade out for low-sugar natural sodas.
3. Check the label.
Just because something is marketed as “natural” or “healthy” doesn’t mean that it is. Keep your eye out for unhealthy additives like MSG, high sugar or sodium, artificial coloring or flavors, nitrates, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, saturated fats.
4. Don’t skip breakfast.
Why is breakfast the most important meal of the day? You haven’t eaten in 12 hours or so and you body is like a car. It needs fuel to run. Children who skip breakfast have poorer concentration and tend to miss more school. On the other hand, a good breakfast can boost energy, focus and creativity.
5. Turn old favorites into healthy treats.
Switch to whole wheat bread on your peanut butter sandwich. Add banana slices and honey instead of sugary jam. Try whole grain pancakes instead of refined grain. Top with fresh berries or yogurt. Replace artificially flavored syrup with real maple syrup.
6. Healthy eats can be simple.
Smoothies can be expensive if you buy them out, but they take only 3 minutes to make if you have a blender. Throw in a banana, blueberries and fill with almond milk, orange juice or yogurt. Three minutes to make with minimal clean up, and your children will be happily slurping on something they love and is good for them.
7. Pack on-the-go snacks.
Keep go-anywhere high-energy snacks on hand. Nuts, low-fat cereal bars, or dried fruit (a good alternative to candy). Pack some in the car for your chauffeur rides from school to gymnastics class or other activities. Include water. Hydration is important for focus and energy, especially after a long day.
8. Teach your child about good food choices.
Let your child make up a meal. Go shopping together for the ingredients. Make it fun. Keep it simple (under 15 minutes to prepare, easy clean up) so that it stays fun and doesn’t turn into pressure to perform. When the whole family eats the homemade dinner, give your budding chef a round of applause.
9. Support school lunches.
Over 16 million children in our country go hungry. We have rising rates of child obesity and type-2 diabetes linked to the poor eating habits we have as a nation. Many children get their most nutritious meals at school. School lunches are important.
10. Support school nutrition programs that teach children about healthy eating.
Some schools grow their own edible gardens where children learn about healthy foods from seed to table. These programs are amazing! Check out: http://www.csgn.org/
Ivana is a modern princess married to a real Italian prince! Follow the Modern Princess on Facebook and Twitter 2PrincessIvana. She has a Masters of Education and has worked with children for 20 years in a variety of capacities, from designing educational toys for preschoolers to tutoring homeless children.