Why FOOD is the key to better health for parents and children

Most of us think we are pretty savvy with knowing what healthy eating looks like, both for ourselves and for our children. We know that chocolate, chips, soft drinks and ‘junk food’ are best left for special occasions.

If this is the case why are we seeing an adult population in Australia suffering from the highest rates ever of obesity and weight issues, type two diabetes, heart disease and cancers?

Passionate about helping parents and children improve their overall health, Michele Chevalley Hedge, a wellbeing expert, was the second guest speaker in Kilvington’s parent education program (PEP Talk) series.

It is Michele’s belief, FOOD underpins all things for true wellbeing, and she provided affordable, easy, do-able and most importantly repeatable solutions for a lifetime of good eating habits for Kilvington parents and students.

Why is food such a big issue for school kids?

While Michele recommended the first step is looking at the impact of diet on parents’ health, this is matched by looking at the impact of diet on our children.

A bad diet can do all sorts of things. The afternoon slump from a poor lunch choice results in a distracted afternoon of learning. A bad choice before bed, results in a ‘tired but wired’ young person unable to get to sleep.

Perhaps though the most compelling thought for school kids is missing out on the benefits of a good diet.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest health issues for young people today is mental health. Currently, one in six young people are experiencing some form of mental illness, and in some age groups, it’s even higher. New research from Deakin University as part of the ‘Smiles Trial’ indicates a direct correlation between a good diet and better mental health in young people.

Where are we going wrong?

Back to the original question, if we have more knowledge than ever on healthy eating where are we going wrong?

Michele suggested part of the problem is too many solutions. You only have to google healthy eating and you’ll be provided with a list of fast fixes – the paleo diet, no carbs, the keto diet, alkaline diet, 5:2 diet. There are testimonies from people who have dropped five kilos in a matter weeks, or television chefs pledging their support behind the latest fad.

Then there is the lack of time. We are busier than ever, and we need convenience. Food delivery, pre-prepared meals and quick dinners are all contributing to our bad diets.

The other big problem? Sugar.

We know eating a chocolate bar means consuming a fair amount of sugar, but what about the healthy foods that we eat because we think they are good for us, that are actually loaded with as much, and sometimes even more, sugar than the chocolate bar?

The World Health Organisation recommends six tablespoons of sugar per day for adults and children. The current daily intake of sugar by children in Australia? A whopping 43 teaspoons!

The solution – it is time to get back to basics

Michele suggested that the simplest way to eat a healthy diet is to get back to unpackaged, unprocessed and seasonal foods and adapt better lifestyle habits.

She offered eight tips for overall better wellbeing including:

  • Eat food in its ‘realest’ form possible.
  • Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night and resist the urge for screen time (phone or laptop) for an hour before bed – both parents and kids! Sleep is as important as exercise and food intake.
  • Eat a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner and make sure that you include a healthy fat, protein and smart carb in every meal.
  • Start the day by drinking a glass of water and keep it going all day. To help, buy a nice water bottle for the office or your child to take to school.
  • Don’t eat lunch like a bird. You may think your salad is a good option, but by 3pm you’ll be running to the nearest vending machine or 7Eleven where you are more likely to make a poor food choice.
  • Add a probiotic food to your meal where possible. This includes kimchi, kombucha and miso.
  • Avoid the SUGAR monster. It is not about having no sugar, instead make it a sometimes food. Plan ahead to reduce the risk of a poor choice
  • Take time to plan your meals, and aim to cook once and eat twice. Don’t fall into the trap of spending more time watching cooking shows, than actually cooking.

The key to overcoming hidden sugars can easily be achieved by following three steps:

  • 1. Read the ingredients – if you don’t understand what an ingredient is, chances are it is not good for you!
  • 2. Look at the serving size – to make sure that you are only consuming one serving. A great example of where this goes wrong is a bought smoothie, which seems like a good choice packed with fruit and yoghurt, but the average size is generally SIX servings, meaning you are likely to be consuming as much as 25 teaspoons of sugar in one gulp.
  • 3. Look at the added sugars and divide by 4 to work out how many teaspoons of sugar per serving – if it’s more than the daily recommended serve (six teaspoons a day), don’t go near it.

Hidden high sugar foods to look out for include ice tea, yoghurt, chai tea, cereal and muesli bars. Smart carbs include sweet potato and starchy vegetables, wholemeal rice and pasta, legumes including beans lentils and spilt peas and wholegrain breads and cereals.

Michele’s final advice is to start by making small changes. Because unlike the ‘paleo’ or ‘5:2 diet’, this is not a 30-day fix, this is a lifestyle change to ensure good health for you and your family.