We parents want our kids to grow up happy and healthy, and hope to provide them with the solid foundation they will need to succeed in life.
Part of that is helping them form good habits, which should include having a healthy lifestyle. After all, ‘health is wealth,’ as people like to say. One of the ways to having a healthier lifestyle, of course, is to eat healthy meals.
However, this is easier said than done. Many parents find it challenging to serve nutritious, healthy meals and snacks to their children. Still, it is something worth striving for.
Dr. Joel Furhman, an advocate for healthy eating, especially plant-based nutrition, is the author of numerous books, including Eat to Live, Eat for Health and Disease-Proof Your Child. In Disease-Proof Your Child, Dr. Fuhrman writes about how eating specific types of food and how avoiding others — junk food, in particular — can significantly boost a child's immunity, and even his or her intelligence and success in school.
According to Dr. Fuhrman, “The human body is a self-repairing, self-defending, self-healing marvel. Disease is relatively difficult to induce, considering the body's powerful immune system. However, this complicated and delicate machinery can be damaged if fed the wrong fuel during the formative years.”
Taking this into consideration, we should therefore do our best to “healthify” our food, as much as possible. Here are 5 things we can do to get started:
1. Switch to a healthier version of rice, bread and pasta.
We Filipinos are known for being big ‘rice eaters.’ Unfortunately, the rice that we usually eat, i.e. white rice, is actually less nutritious compared to brown, red or black rice.
A study conducted by a group of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health which was published in the online journal Archives of Internal Medicine showed that eating 5 or more servings of white rice every week may result in an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is apparently due to white rice having a higher glycemic index than brown rice.
Therefore, it would be best to replace white rice with brown rice or other whole grains like barley, wheat or quinoa. Some people also opt to consume black or red rice, as the aforementioned are said to be more effective for those who wish to prioritize weight management or weight loss.
In the same way, if you’re a bread and/or pasta lover, go for whole wheat/grain versions, instead of the usual “white” ones.
However, making the switch to healthier versions of rice, bread and pasta may be challenging at first, especially when it comes to the kids in your household. To make the switch easier, you can try mixing brown/red/black rice with the usual white rice first, then gradually moving to pure brown/red/black rice later on.
For bread, try making fun-looking sandwiches with whole wheat bread, or using your child’s favorite spread.
For pasta, cook the healthier version but serve it with your children’s favorite pasta sauce.
2. Invest in healthier alternatives to seasonings and condiments.
Another thing we Filipinos are known by is our love for condiments like toyo (soy sauce) or patis (fish sauce). Unfortunately, both of them are high in sodium content, and doing so is an unhealthy habit that should be controlled.
Actually, if we would just take the time to read the labels of the food items we usually buy, we would discover that most, if not all, have salt, sugar and other ingredients that, if taken in large quantities or accumulated in our bodies over time, are detrimental to our health.
Thus, it would make sense to take a second look at the condiments that we add to our food. Better yet, let us invest in our health and switch to healthier options.
For example, instead of using patis or toyo to add flavor to your food, you could try using liquid aminos, which is available at Healthy Options.
Similarly, instead of the usual sinigang (sour broth) mix, which, among other things, contains monosodium glutamate or MSG, you might want to use more natural ingredients to give your soup the signature sour taste — for example, authentic sampalok, kamias or kalamansi fruits.
You can also try natural mixes like those sold by Herb’s Best, which are available online through herbsbest.shopinas.com. Personally, our family has started using the latter when preparing sinigang and my kids can’t tell the difference.
If you like your food (or drinks) sweet, opt for honey or coco sugar instead of the usual refined white sugar.
Malunggay or moringa oleifeira is a plant commonly found in the Philippines, and is known for its nutritional value. It has actually been used in herbal medicine in many countries.
Here in the Philippines, malunggay leaves are commonly added to dishes like tinolang manok. Malunggay is also known to be a galactagogue, or a substance that helps boost breastmilk supply. Malunggay leaves are also known to be a nutritious source of calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins A, B, and C.
In recent years, it has become easier and more convenient to consume malunggay in powder and capsule form. Thus, one easy way to make your meals and snacks healthier is to add a bit of malunggay powder to what you eat. For example, when I serve my toddler her breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, I sprinkle a bit of malunggay powder onto it. When I serve my kids rice and afritada, I mix malunggay powder into their food. This is one way of ‘adding vegetables’ to whatever they eat.
You can also add malunggay powder to drinks like smoothies or shakes.
It’s a known fact that eating vegetables is good for you. To ‘healthify’ your meals, try including more vegetables and cutting down on meat like pork and beef in your ulam (viand).
For example, if you’re going to cook chicken tinola, have fewer pieces of chicken but add more sayote or green papaya. Or, for menudo, use fried tofu instead of pork, and more carrots and potatoes.
The same goes for sinigang — you can use tofu instead of pork. If this seems too ‘extreme’ for you, however, you can opt to use fish instead. The key is to have more vegetables in your viands. For starters, you can try searching the Internet for vegetarian versions of your favorite recipes.
Most of us use vegetable oil when cooking meals, and although this is not totally bad, it would still be better to go for healthier options like lauric oil (coconut oil) or olive oil, even if many may consider it more expensive to do so.
Olive oil is known to be a healthier oil because the main type of fats found in it are called monounsaturated fatty acids. These are considered a ‘healthy’ dietary fat.
Coconut oil, or lauric oil, contains lauric acid, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Thus, it can be considered a ‘healthy oil’ as well.
Small steps lead to big changes Healthifying your meals may be challenging at times, but you’ll definitely be grateful that you did so later on. Don’t be overwhelmed by what you need to do — just take small steps first. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that these small steps will end up in you making big changes — all for the sake of your health, and your family’s, too!
Fuhrman, Joel. Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right.
Hendrick, Bill. “Brown Rice Vs. White Rice: Which is Better?” WebMD.com. June 14, 2010. http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20100614/brown-rice-vs-white-rice-which-is-better
Mercola, Joseph. “Coconut Oil: This Cooking Oil Is A Powerful Virus-Destroyer and Antibiotic.” Mercola.com October 22, 2010. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/22/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats-can-make-you-healthy.aspx