We hear many conflicting opinions on what constitutes healthy eating. There are many "fads" and "new ideas", but no one has studied nutrition longer or more successfully than the Chinese. If we eat like the Asians, we will look like the Asians (thin). When they eat like us, they look like us (not thin). The food choices we make for ourselves and our children are the greatest factor in determining our health. An analogy is 'building a house'. If you were to build a house, you would want the top-quality lumber and materials you could find. As adults, we are constantly re-building our house; but for children, they are also laying the foundation. Top quality means natural, simple, and organic.
Once kids have their teeth, they can begin to eat a diet that is similar to how adults should eat. I used to work in elementary schools and saw that the lunches most children take to (or buy at) school are not healthy according to the wisdom of The Asian Diet. So here are a few things you may want to consider when deciding what to feed your kids (and yourself). Balance and moderation are the keys.
1. Don't give them too much raw food
Whatever you put in your body that is cold and raw, you have to heat and cook. This steals your energy and slows your metabolism. There is a fad idea that says we should eat only raw food; but cooking has been a part of every recorded culture. It is a form of pre-digesting food so we can just serve as the filters- send the good stuff to the tissues, bad stuff to the tissue paper. Of course your child will not be able to steam their veggies at school, but you can steam them ahead of time (slightly), refrigerate them, and have your child eat them at room temperature. Pickling is another way to pre-digest and improve metabolism. We want efficient digestion.
2. Limit Dairy
Dairy is intended by nature for infants. The internal fire of an infant is sufficient to transform this rich and viscous material into usable tissue. By the time we have our teeth, we do not need it anymore. This is why lactation ceases around 18-36 months. In a non-infant, the tissue it turns into is Phlegm. Phlegm may manifest in many different ways. It can lodge between skin and muscle as fat; clog up the sinuses, cause or exacerbate asthma, impair clear thinking; it can also congeal to form cysts, fibroids, and tumors. (The Chinese understand cancer and these other abnormal growths to be basically phlegm-balls and noticed more in the populations that consumed dairy). Dairy is not necessary for bone health, but vegetables are.
3. Increase Variety
If your child said "I like math but not other subjects" would you say that it is OK for him/her to only do his math homework? I hope not. Then why should we accept it when kids tell us that they like french fries but not broccoli? It is not OK for kids to have too limited a repertoire of food. It would be like trying to build a house using only 2x4's and no nails or insulation.
All foods have something unique to give us and we need a little of most foods. A good diet is like a good stock portfolio- diversified. If you have the same thing too much, you'll be overloaded in one sector. That makes you more prone to the dangers of that sector; and you are missing out on other good things happening in the market. So like a good portfolio, hedge your bets. Serving a little of more foods ensures no single one can have too great an influence.
4. Avoid processed foods
The more processed a food is, the more difficult it is to un-process. Difficult digestion=slow metabolism. Rice and other simple grains are easier for us to handle than breads or pastas, which are easier than crackers, cookies, cakes, candy and sodas. There is no ingredient list on an orange, but check out the label on that Orange Drink. If your grandmother would recognize it as a food, it's probably OK. Your grandmother probably never cooked with potassium benzoate or aspartame. These new ingredients are not natural and confuse our bodies. The more natural the food, the better.
5. Soft drinks will make them soft
Soda/Pop should not be considered on OK choice as beverage with meals. Every now and then, if you want to give your child a cola, get the real deal from the health food store. Natural colas will have: filtered water, cola bean, pure cane sugar, and salt. These are all ingredients our bodies can recognize. They make natural lemon-lime, orange soda, and root beer too. But commercial sodas have too many unnatural ingredients. Diet drinks are NOT better. The number-one beverage should be water, room temperature or above.
Another rule is that "the way things are outside the body is how they will act inside the body." Sweet things are sticky, and sticky impairs proper circulation. For this reason, things like juice and peanut butter should be kept in moderation. Plus, juice is a concentrate; which violates the "moderation" principle.
So you see, the typical lunches of: raw veggies, cream-based dips , milk, mac and cheese, string cheese, pb&j, cracker-sandwich packs, and juice boxes are not very good. Sandwiches should be on sprouted-grain bread and contain veggies. Try sending them with a bowl of rice, some cooked vegetables, a little bit of meat, fruit, and water. P.S. Eating like this will make you healthier too.
Jason Bussell is Author of "The Asian Diet: Simple secrets for eating right, losing weight, and being well." He is an acupuncturist and herbalist, trained in the US and in China; is President Emeritus of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, serves on the State of Illinois Government's board of Acupuncture; and is a Teacher and Speaker.