Nutritional therapist Amber Silverman looks at the issues you should know about

Children don’t generally suffer from blocked arteries, clogged digestive systems or insulin resistance. They don’t battle with “middle age spread” or sluggish livers like some of their parents and grandparents. Generally they bounce around and always seem more or less OK. So we sometimes forget that what they eat will affect them as well.

Many of the conditions we associate with older age are chronic ones that can be traced to our youth. That means that some can be avoided altogether if we act on a better understanding of what is really important when it comes to health.

Nowadays we are bombarded with information about food and healthy eating. As a nutritional therapist, I believe that if we provide our bodies with the right balance of nutrients, then we are most of the way to being as healthy as possible. But it can be overwhelming trying to work out how to feed our children to ensure they are the healthiest they can be.

As we get older we come to understand and value why our health is so important, almost before anything else. I was brought up in a household where my parents often said that your health is the most important thing, although it took having children myself before I truly understood what they meant. It is only when you experience ill health, whether your own, your partner’s, your parents’ or your children’s – in either acute or chronic states – that you can really start to appreciate this sentiment.

As parents we have a huge job educating our children to be the sort of young people we aspire for them to be: we spend time teaching them to read and write, to swim, to ride bikes, to share nicely, to try their best at school, to do their homework neatly, to look after their things, to care about other people, but somehow teaching them to eat healthily often drops off the list.

I believe that for them to learn this we, as parents, need to be good role models to show them the way: to sit and eat dinner with them as often as we can, to talk about values that encompass health and healthy eating, and most importantly of all to enjoy delicious and healthy food!

Our lives are so full that it is easy to let things slip and then for “treats” to become everyday events, after-school snacks to be sugary refined foods, drinks with every meal to be fruit juice. Does this sound familiar? And is it affecting your child’s health?

For me, a healthy child is one that wakes up in the morning with vitality, has good energy levels through the day, can concentrate at school or nursery, and has an immune system able to fight off colds and other infections. If you don’t recognise this healthy child, then here are the key areas to focus on:

1. Eat Less Sugar
Sugar causes dental problems, weight gain, creates a ‘sweet tooth’, behavioural problems from the glucose highs and lows, and the knock-on-effects of a compromised eating pattern. One of the major sources of added sugar for children nowadays is drinks and juices and fizzy drinks have been found to be the cause of many health problems. These drinks also replace foods that have nutrients and fibre, which children need in order to grow.

2. Drink Water
Water is vital for all of us. It is the basis of life. It aids concentration, ensures daily bowel movements for removal of toxins, and is key for the body’s production of energy. Dehydration causes many problems that are easily solved by drinking more water. Encourage your child to drink a glass of water before nursery or school.

3. Eat More Fruit and Vegetables
Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables in all their forms and varieties has been linked to stronger immunity because of their high antioxidant status. Children who eat fruits and veggies at every meal are filling up on high fiber, high nutrient, low calorie foods, in the right portions. Choose a rainbow of colours when eating fruit and vegetables to ensure you are having all the nutrients available.

4. Eat a Variety of Proteins
Protein is vital to children’s growing brains and bodies! Protein isn’t only obtained from chicken… Fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, dairy, tofu, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good protein sources. Protein should be included in every meal that children have.

5. Include Fish At Least Twice Per Week
Fish is high in omega 3 fats which are vital for brain development. In addition, omega 3s are being linked to reduced inflammation in patients with asthma, arthritis, and eczema. Low consumption of omega 3 is common in children and is a risk factor for disease and behavioral problems. Other sources of omega 3 essential fats are walnuts, eggs, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, kelp.

6. Choose Whole Grains
There is no reason to continue purchasing and making foods with refined grains. There are delicious alternatives to every refined food. Whole grains are also known as complex carbohydrates that release energy slowly and are very sustaining. Brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas are higher in fiber and nutrients.

7. Stick To Three Meals Per Day
Children who are allowed to graze on food all day, do not have the appetite or desire to try new foods. It’s okay for children to be hungry, and can even be encouraged! When mealtime comes, they will be less picky and healthy food will taste better to them.

8. Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods are any foods you find that are pre-made and packaged. They and often require chemicals, food dyes, preservatives, added fats, and added sugars just so they can be stored without spoiling. Children who eat and have access to processed foods tend to eat less fruits and vegetables, and develop eating habits that lead to obesity and poor health. Much of the food aimed at kids falls into this processed category so it is worth dodging all the kids marketing and not buying things like smiley potato waffles, chicken nuggets, sweet cereals, fruit shoots and kids’ fruit yoghurts. Always check the labels and if you don’t recognise the ingredients, chances are it isn’t really food as we know it.

9. Limit Sodium
Children should eat less than 1500mg of sodium (salt) per day, a little more than 1/2 teaspoon. Too much sodium puts children at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and even kidney disease. Check labels, add only a very little salt to cooking, and instead for flavor add herbs and spices to ensure you stay within the recommended range. Keep crisps and salted snacks to a minimum, as a treat not an everyday event.

Finally it is always important to remember that each child will have their own nutritional needs because of genetic makeup, family and medical history, amount of daily activity, any underlying health issues.

[ Box] Amber Silverman (Dip. CNM, BSc Psychology) 23 Hugo Road, Tufnell Park (07973) 738 152 is a qualified nutritional therapist available for individual consultations, school, nursery or coffee morning talks on healthy eating with children, and to run workshops with children. amber@nutrition-for-health.org www.nutrition-for-health.org

[Box] Healthy Recipes
I like these recipes as they can both be used if you are in a rush at breakfast or as a healthy snack during the day.

If the quantities given make too much to eat you can freeze for another day. Once defrosted, toast and spread with a little butter for a delicious breakfast or snack.

Savoury Breakfast Loaf

200g wholemeal self-raising flour
50 g porridge oats
2 tbsps sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 small or 1 large carrot grated (approx 50g)
2 courgettes grated & water squeezed out (approx 80g)
80g grated cheddar cheese
2 eggs
3 tbsps olive oil or other vegetable oil
approx 8 tbsps milk

 Butter a loaf tin.
 Preheat oven to 180oC
 In a large bowl mix together flour, oats, seeds, salt & oregano.
 Add the eggs, olive oil and milk. Mix to a batter, loose but not too sloppy.
 Add the grated vegetables and cheese & mix well.
 Bake for 35-40 mins until golden brown.
 Remove from tin and leave to cool or eat warm with melted butter!

Sweet Breakfast Loaf

150g chopped dried pitted dates, or combination of dried dates and figs
150g brown sugar
250ml water
320g wholemeal self-raising flour
260g mashed ripe banana
55g chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

 Butter a loaf tin.
 Preheat oven to 180oC
 Combine dates, sugar and water in a saucepan over a low heat. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and bring to the boil. Remove from heat.
 Add flour, banana, walnuts and bicarbonate of soda. Stir until combined.
 Spoon into prepared loaf tin and smooth surface with back of spoon.
 Bake in pre-heated oven for 40mins or until inserted skewer comes out clean.
 Remove from oven and set aside for 5 minutes before turning onto wire rack to cool.