Three's A'loud

Spilling the beans on child nutrition

I am not a perfect mom.

With that confession out of the way, let me share something I overheard the other day in the line, while I was buying pizza for my kids’ dinner. I was waiting for my order and updating my Facebook status to “Preparing a delicious home cooked dinner for my little monkeys”, when I overheard another mom’s phone conversation. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but – we are moms: we are trained to listen much closer when others (usually naughty kids) are whispering.

“Please don’t forget the cauliflower, yes… no, the caul*li*flow*er” , she whispered into her cell phone, as her eyes darted to the pizza chef enveloped in a delectable cloud of garlic and melted cheese and calling the next order. “Yes. I said cauliflower. I have Jeanine on a diet now, she is getting too fat. We need to get her into shape before she gets to grade 1”

Later at home while the kids and I were tucking into the carby deliciousness (if that is not a word, it should be), I was mentally sending sympathetic vibes to little Jeanine enjoying her cauliflower rice at that exact moment and wondering about the world we are raising our kids in. Technology and security are just two factors that have changed the way our kids are growing up. No more hopscotch on the front pavement or action cricket in the streets. We are often locked in behind burglar bars and security systems playing hopscotch on the iPad and action cricket on the Playstation. According to the International Obesity Taskforce, one out of every ten children worldwide is overweight. (There’s an International Obesity Taskforce?!) In South Africa, almost two out of every ten children are either overweight or obese and apparently this number is still climbing every year. If you Google “diet for overweight children” you get more than 16 300 options ranging from the “chicken broth diet” to the “carrots and peas diet” and of course, probably one of the most famous at the moment, the suggestion from South African doctor Tim Noakes that babies should follow his Banting diet.

For those who have not read a newspaper or shopped for food at Woolies in the past couple of years: Banting is basically a high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet that is currently very trendy. It was also very trendy in 1861 when a Mr. William Harvey “discovered” it and “to bant” was even introduced into the English language. The diet went out of fashion in the 1950s when too many medical professionals could not agree on its merit, and was written out of all medical books until it was “rediscovered” in 1974 by Dr Robert Atkins. I know people for whom it works very well and I also know people for whom it doesn’t. But like with most other things I believe it should be taken with a grain of pink Himalayan salt. Tim Noakes’ Banting book for kids is called “Raising Superheroes”. I am sure it’s helping lots of kids. Incidentally, I am also working on a recipe book for kids and it’s called “Get Off Your Bum, Turn Off The TV And Go Play Outside.”

“The problem with today’s kids really has as much to do with exercise than with diet” agrees Elmien Jacobs, a Pretoria dietician who has been dealing with kids’ nutrition on a regular basis for the past 8 years. “Unfortunately one size does not fit all and Banting is probably not a good idea for growing children.” The brain needs glucose to function and glucose is supplied by carbohydrates. If there are no carbs, there will not be enough glucose and the body will start breaking down muscle mass to keep the brain functioning.” This is certainly not an ideal scenario for growing children. According to her, a balanced diet with enough protein, ample fruit and veg and a fair portion of carbohydrates is still the best way to go for most growing children. It’s all about a healthy balance between diet and exercise. “It’s okay to have chips and cake for the little ones at their next birthday party but make sure you get the jumping castle as well! “

So on the one hand we have (according to some sources) the 5th highest childhood obesity rate in the world, but there is also the other extreme: moms who have their kids on a permanent diet throughout their lives. The media bombards us with images of “healthy” bodies and we must be really careful to help our kids develop a positive body image from a young age. There are entire websites dedicated to fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free birthday parties, lunch-boxes and lifestyles in general. If you have the time and energy to do that; good for you. Just make sure they don’t end up being fun-free as well.

The occasional pizza aside, I honestly try to keep my kids as healthy as possible. In fact, I also had very good intentions when my eldest was born and she got pretty close to her first birthday before she was allowed any form of sugar. I started off preparing all baby food from scratch and serving carrot sticks for snacks, but somewhere around baby number two and baby number three things went pear-shaped pretty quickly (and it wasn’t just my post-baby body). Life happened. Going-back-to-work happened. And anxiety and frustration happened. It turns out you can’t have your low GI bread buttered on both sides. So I went out and bought a pile of two-minute-noodles. And some Enterprise viennas. I even added some biscuits and chips. Not for every day. But for those days when I just want to get home, plonk down flat on the carpet and have my kids climbing all over me instead of standing behind the stove. I believe I have found a pretty happy balance between healthy eating and sanity. Have you found yours?

If you are a Pinterest mom making the clown face with the broccoli and the carrots and the sautéed asparagus for dinner… Good on you. If you love spending a couple of fun hours each night working on tomorrow’s lunch-box concept… Good on you. You are awesome.

And if you are a working mom who sometimes throw a couple a’ packets of two-minute-noodles in the microwave for dinner and packs chips in the kids’ lunchboxes… Good on you. You are awesome too.

We all love our kids equally fervently. It’s not a competition.

Here is some final food for thought: A study published in 2004 found that adolescents who were being treated for obesity were significantly more successful in losing weight when parents also reduced their body mass indexes. If Jeanine’s mom at Roman’s Pizza would join her child in eating cauliflower mash for dinner, that would give Jeanine the best possible chance of “getting into shape” before grade 1. Or Maybe Jeanine’s mom should just relax, order a thin base pizza and give little Jeanine a slice. Because I found that little girls in grade 1 generally spend their days at school running, jumping, falling and getting up again. They are discovering netball, ballet and hopefully spend a lot of time running away from boys (but I might just be telling myself that to feel better about my beautiful daughters growing up so fast). As long as Jeanine gets a relatively balanced lunch-box every day instead of tuck shop money, she should be fine. And the family can get that pizza once every week or two and enjoy it together. After all, our time with our kids is so precious we should not waste a minute of it.

And that’s the way the low-GI gluten-free cookie crumbles.

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This article was first published on Master of Quills


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