Most Important Daily Decision a Parent Makes for Their Kids: Choosing the Food You Prepare for Them

When you think of all the decisions you make for your child every day--buckling them into a cars eat, applying sunscreen, making sure they are well-rested,  etc. There is nothing, in my opinion, more important than the food you choose to prepare for them.

Children have growing brains and rapidly growing bodies. The food they eat and beverages they drink are the fuel to keep that body moving and growing. Just as your car won't run as well on crummy gasoline, your child cannot grow and learn as well on improper nutrition.

What to do?? Try to dramatically reduce or eliminate foods that are overly-processed. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot pronounce the ingredient, your child shouldn't be eating it on a regular basis. Fast food, sodas, artificial colors and preservatives might be FUN and convenient, but they are not an appropriate FUEL for a growing body.

Choose foods that come in a "peel" rather than a "package". Choose packaged foods that have minimal ingredients--less than 5-6 is a nice rule of thumb. A lot of the foods marketed towards young children are chocked full of chemicals that (while they might make the food a fun color or texture) don't add any nutritional value and could possibly be harmful over time. Teach your older children to start looking at food labels they know what they are eating.

Eating more healthily can be less expensive, a great way to learn together as a family and make everyone in the family feel better. But as a busy family, sometimes it takes some planning. Make a menu for the week on the weekends so you have an idea ahead of time.

Choose to cook at home—maybe pre-cook meals on weekends, use the crock pot on weekdays or make double batches of family favorites when you have time to cook to put in the freezer for a busy day. Keep a list of what you have in the freezer so you don’t forget and have it available to quickly refer to it.  It’s a good idea to pack lunches the night before to avoid the morning rush & snacks for on-the-go rather than grabbing fast "food". Keep non-perishables like nuts, water bottles, dried fruit in the car so avoid the “quick gas station stop” when running errands.

It may sound hard at first, but your pocket book and waistline will thank you. If you're not sure where to start when trying to make healthier choices for your family, the "100 days of real food" blog is a great source.

By Ann Jones, MD, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Appleton