There are so many rules about feeding and preparing kids' baon these days, particularly about sugar intake. It's all well-meaning, of course, but moms' experience with the "food police" (who can be your fellow mom!) can almost feel like bullying. They can make you feel guilty you wonder: am I that bad?
There's one mom who happens to be a dietitian who says we should all play it cool with sugar. Katie Morford, the author of the book Best Lunch Ever, believes that "if you load up lunches with vegetables, fruits, grains, protein sources, and other whole foods, you can tuck in treats here and there," she writes in an article for The Kitchn.
"Showing kids what it means to enjoy sweets in the context of a healthy meal will help them navigate this sort of balancing act going forward," Morford continues. She adds that it's better for her to give a chocolate chip cookie than the "healthy" foods marketed for kids, which can be full of sugar and empty calories.
The taste buds of kids are naturally drawn to sweets, and you can use — but not abuse — this to your advantage. "It's also plainly unwise to put sugar on a pedestal as a forbidden fruit. Do that, and your kids will start sniffing around in their friends' lunch boxes for the cookies they're not allowed to have," Morford explained.
Here are some rules you can stick to when preparing your child's baon:
1. Give the right portions.
A typical 5-year-old should consume 1,300 calories daily. For every meal, at least for Filipinos, it should contain an adequate serving of each food group: rice, ulam, veggies, and fruit. That's a mix of go, grow, and glow foods. (If you have no idea what correct portions of rice, meat, fish, veggies, and fruits for kids look like, click here.)
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If you're going to sneak in a sweet snack, incorporate it in the diet, but still in the right portions. The amount of sugar should still be within your child's overall daily nutritional needs. Also, little kids have little tummies and therefore don't need a big serving. A square of dark chocolate or a mini cupcake is enough.
2. Read the whole ingredients list.
Morford mentioned that there are a lot of healthy foods marketed for kids, but it's true many contain a lot of sugar. The key is to really read the label especially on store-bought drinks and snacks. Just because a food item has sugar doesn't mean it's terrible. Carbohydrates, when broken down is still sugar. How big or small is the ideal serving size and its nutritional value? Check also other ingredients that may be harmful such as artificial coloring or unnecessary preservatives.
Your choice of baon to give your preschooler largely depends on two things: its nutrient content and the likeability, which begs the question: "Will your child enjoy eating it?" You have to be creative in marrying the two, so you get a win-win situation.
For example, if your kids like pastries or baked goods, choose one made with whole grains for more fiber. If your little one likes chocolate, go for dark choco, which also contains antioxidants. If your child loves juices, opt for homemade or a yogurt-based drink.
4. Be realistic about sugar.
Packing every meal to nutrient perfection takes practice (even more, if you're doing it bento style). It should not, however, distract you from the bigger picture.
"If you're adding treats to school lunch, be especially mindful not to pack a lot of sugar elsewhere," Morford stressed. You have to be on top of this. You can only include a few treats in your child's meals when you have made sure what's on her plate is packed with nutrition.
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The real key to having an easier time preparing your child's baon starts the moment he was born, from breastfeeding to introducing him to his first solids. It's the first real step to make sure your kids will choose good food even when you're not with them.
Showing them that you do practice healthy eating habits and continue to do so whether at home or in the mall make a significant impact on their food choices. Talking to them about it in their own words also helps, instead of just saying no without explanation.
Making your child's baon doesn't have to be rocket science. It just has to be a balance of good food plus a taste of sweetness. After all, you want your little one to get excited to eat and gobble up his snack or lunch. That way, he'll have the energy to learn.