Our children are in trouble! The job of cooking for our families has been outsourced!
Did you know that the average American diet consists of about 70% processed food? That's food that's produced by companies who prioritize short-term profits over the long-term health of our children. And the rest of the world is following in this trend.
Adding to the problem is our sedentary lifestyle. Children are spending more times in front of screens instead of going out and playing. Families are eating in front of the tv instead of sitting together for family meals.
The rates of overweight and obesity in South African children are growing. With 23% of girls and 10% of boys aged 10 to 14 being overweight or obese, this is a serious concern for the future health of South Africans. In the age group 15-17, 27% of girls and 9% of boys are overweight or obese. (Discovery.co.za)
Being overweight as an infant increases the risk of being overweight as a child, which in turn increases the risk of being overweight as an adolescent and adult.
How can we counter this? We can cook for our children.
One of the biggest problems, is that surprisingly large amounts of salt, sugar and fat are hidden in processed foods, in order to extend their shelf life and enhance their flavor, so that they'll be more likely to sell. By far, the majority of the excess salt and sugar in the children's diets comes from processed food.
Almost everything you find on the supermarket shelf that has been packaged, canned or bottled, falls into the category of processed foods.These include things like breakfast cereal, granola bars, cookies, crackers and sweetened drinks. Even foods that we consider healthy like yogurt, or cheese, or even pasta sauce are heavily processed.
One way to differentiate a highly processed food from a less processed one, is to look at the number of ingredients listed on the label. If the food has a long list of ingredients, the food is most likely highly processed. Especially, if those ingredients are not easily recognizable to you.
If you are unsure consider how quickly a food spoils. The more processed the longer it will take to spoil. Nutrient dense foods such as fruit and vegetables spoil fast. Our best option is to prepare and serve these kinds of foods to our families.
When we cook, we get to decide what is going into our children's bodies, and unlike the processed food manufactures, we have a strong interest in the health of the people who are going to be eating the food that we make.
Cooking for our children shows that we love them! In the long run, a diet of mostly home cooked foods, prepared by someone who cares about the people eating that food, will almost always be healthier for the whole family.
I recognise that after a long, busy day we may not always feel like cooking, but consider this. A quick, easy pasta dish (like the one below) is far healthier than a take-away meal, and cheaper.
This pasta salad will appeal to children and is quick and easy to prepare, even with a little helper underfoot.
A fun alternative is a strawberry, mint pasta salad with feta. Kids who don't like the strong taste of basil usually love the strawberry mint combination.