Tips for feeding your child food that’s free of additives
A dietician provides advice on healthy eating for your family.
From the time children are born parents want to provide them with the essential vitamins and nutrients that they will need to grow strong and healthy bodies. Unfortunately, we don’t always read and understand the finer print on all the foods that we purchase and feed our children.
So we consulted with dietitian Mbali Mapholi to better understand the additives that are contained in our children’s foods and the effects those additives have on their health and lives.
When asked “what are the long-term effects of additives on growing children?” Mbali replied that the limited available data suggests some potential effects such as interfering with growth hormones, affecting a child’s growth, and being potentially linked to childhood obesity. All of this also may be due to the fact that most foods that contain additives are also ultra-processed foods, which may contribute towards childhood obesity.
If you’re wondering where to start with eliminating additives, Mbali recommends the best place is with bisphenol A, or BPA as it’s better known. It is used to prevent rust from metal containers and cans as well as to help harden plastic. It has been associated with increased body fat, decreased fertility, altered timing of puberty, and poor immunity in children. BPA has now been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so you should not see products with it on the market. Cans, plastics, and metal food and drink containers should be clearly labelled BPA-free.
Mbali also lists four easy additional steps parents can take to avoid foods with additives:
- Reduce intake of ultra-processed foods, such as chips, biscuits, sweets, fast foods and processed meats. These can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
- Offer kids more fruits and vegetables – focus on including more colour on their plates. This will offer a variety of nutrients that are important to prevent nutrient deficiency that could result in cravings of ultra-processed foods. Fruit and vegetables could be fresh or cooked from frozen.
- Use stainless steal and glass containers for food and beverages for children.
- Practise general hand hygiene before touching or preparing food
In addition, here are more good habits to instil in your family:
- Cut back on canned foods and canned beverages in general.
- Learn the plastic recycling vocabulary. Look at the recycling code on the bottom of products to find the plastic type. Try to avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols).
- Read labels. Get to know what is in the products you use. Familiarise yourself with the chemical names of additives, for example, sugar might be listed as sucrose, salt could be sodium chloride and vitamin C could be ascorbic acid.
- Wash all fresh produce thoroughly before serving, preparing or eating.
- Prepare most meals from scratch. That way, you are able to trim off excess fats and you also avoid all unnecessary additives that are in processed foods and ingredients.
- Serve your children healthier snacks. Yoghurt, peanut butter, nuts, raw vegetables and wholegrain crackers are all healthy snack options that can easily be packed in their lunchboxes. These contain a higher nutritional value.
- Serve less red meat and choose leaner meats like chicken or fish. Also include other protein sources like beans or eggs into your diet.
- Don’t eliminate chips and sweets completely from your child’s life. If you ban it completely, you only make it more irresistible and they could still purchase them at the school tuck shop. Rather include them as “occasional treats”.
- Incorporate as much physical activity as possible in your child’s day .
Remember as well that children are attracted to colour and most new things, so try to make healthier options more attractive and innovative to them. Heathier bodies grow healthier minds.