Busy Moms: Reading Nutrition Facts Labels and Ingredients Lists

Busy Moms: Reading Nutrition Facts Labels and Ingredients Lists

I bet there are some of you out there reading the last few posts about hidden sugars in food and the different names for sugars in our foods who are thinking, “Sure, it is all well and good for HER to say to read the labels in the grocery store, but I’m just too busy for that!

Hey, I’m busy, too!  I also don’t have time to stand around reading labels all day.  And when I am in the grocery store, I am shopping with a 1 year old and a 2 & 1/2 year old who are generally pulling each others’ hair or yanking products off every shelf they pass.  I am as harassed a mum as any of you (or possibly more so… I can be quite a mess at times!).  As mums, we tend to look at other mums who have “got it together” and think we are the only ones who can’t handle everything all at once.  Well, if you’re one of those moms who can do everything all at once and perfectly, good for you! I’m waiting (impatiently) to hear your secret. I, for one, am a busy, rushed, messy mom of two little boys hell-bent on making a mess (and the wife of one rather big boy hell bent on making even more of a mess).

So, how do busy mums like us make time to read nutrition labels, ingredients lists, and health facts on boxes, bags, and packages at the store?

Well, if we try to read them all at once, we certainly will not succeed.  Firstly, it would take hours. Secondly, we’d be unable to remember which product label said what.  And thirdly, it would be such a daunting task that we simply would not even begin, let alone following through. But if we’re not going to jump in head first, how can we be responsible moms, keep our families healthy, and read all those darn food labels?!

Simple: Take it one label at a time.  That’s right, read one food label each trip to the store.

Most of us have standard sets of grocery items we buy week in, week out.  We know what brand of cereal we like (or which one is most frequently on sale).  We buy the same canned vegetables, the same snacks for our picky kids, the same baby food or formula.

This method has lots of benefits:

  • If you read one label from a normal purchase every time you go to the store, you’ll only add a minute or two to your shopping time, which is anyway what you’re probably spending waiting in line.
  • You’re more likely to remember what you’ve read about each product when you’ve only read one label.
  • You have time to think about what you’ve read over the next day or week until your next trip to the store.  You can decide to stick with what you normally buy, or try something new.  But you won’t have to make a snap decision.  You can even talk it over with your partner or kids in the intervening time.
  • Eventually, you will get through all of your regular purchases.  So what if it takes a year?  It’s better to take it slowly and complete your goal than to feel overwhelmed and crash and burn before you even start.
  • After regular practice, you’ll become an old pro at reading labels and you’ll be able to read and understand them much more quickly and completely.

YES, reading labels can seem tedious, time consuming, or overwhelming.  But they really do not need to be.  The key to success is not a huge time investment, rather simple consistency.  With this advice, I hope you will soon feel confident about reading labels and that this will help you feel like an even better provider for your family than you already are!

The Hidden Sugar in Food Part 2: The Many Names for Sugar

The Hidden Sugar in Food Part 2: The Many Names for Sugar

Okay, so we’ve made the decision to reduce or eliminate sugar from our kids’ diets.  But the only way to do that is to start reading labels and looking for that telltale “sugar” on the list.  However, reading an ingredients list isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Firstly, ingredients are listed in order of weight, from the heaviest ingredients to the lightest.  If sugar is the second ingredient, then it weighs less than the first ingredient but more than the third.  If sugar is high up in the ingredients list, you can rest assured there’s a lot of sugar in that product.

Unfortunately, companies have wised up to this.  They know that many more consumers today do check labels and look at the ingredients list.  They realize that listing sugar as the second, third, or fourth ingredient is a giant red flag for health-conscious consumers.  Rather than lose health-conscious customers because their food is sugary, or changing their formulations to make them healthier, companies simply disguise the sugar in their foods.  There are lots of different things companies can call sugar – here are some of the more common ones:

anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, liquid fructose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, sugar syrup, syrup

Some of the less common names for sugar include:

carbitol, concentrated fruit juice, diglycerides, disaccharides, erythritol, Florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, inversol, isomalt, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, nectars, pentose, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, sorbitol, sorghum, sucanat, sucanet, xylitol, zylose

And these lists are by no means exhaustive! There are over 100 different names companies use for added sweeteners.

The best thing we as consumers can do for both ourselves and our society is to lobby the government to mandate “added sugars” labeling on all foods.  Right now, foods are labeled with “sugars” but there is no distinction made between those that are added and those that are naturally occurring.  If the government labeling requirements included a separate “added sugars” category we would be able to instantly tell if the company was adding sweeteners to our foods! Until then, we have to continue to read labels and keep an eye out for all those naughty sweet ingredients.

Bear in mind that just because “sugar” does not appear as a top ingredient in the food, it does not mean there is not a lot of sweetener added.  A manufacturer can decrease the ranking of sweeteners on their ingredients list by breaking the sugars down into several different types.  Whereas previously “sugar” may have been the second ingredient, now “fructose,” “malt syrup,” “high-fructose corn syrup,” and “glucose” may be listed as ingredients 7, 8, 9, and 10.

Wheat ThinsTake Nabisco Wheat Thins for example:

Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Unbleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Soybean Oil, Sugar, Cornstarch, Malt Syrup (From Barley And Corn), Salt, Invert Sugar, Monoglycerides, Leavening (Calcium Phosphate And/Or Baking Soda), Vegetable Color (Annatto Extract, Turmeric Oleoresin).

See what they’ve done there?  Wheat thins are, ostensibly, a “healthy” snack.  Most people polled would probably say it is.  And most people would not guess how much sugar there really is in it!

The more types of sugar you see listed in the ingredients, the more added sugar there is, even if they are listed low in the ingredients.  When a company does this, it is likely trying to hide just how much added sugar there really is in the product!

Don’t be fooled by all the different names for sugar.  There is a lot of sugar lurking in a lot of products – now that you know, you’ll be able to make better decisions!

The Hidden Sugar in Food

The Hidden Sugar in Food

A couple of days ago, I posted about how sugar consumption by kids actually causes addiction.  Unfortunately, it is actually a really difficult thing to keep your kids away from sugar.  It seems to be in everything today!  I am constantly reading labels so I can be aware of exactly what my kids are consuming.

Food producing companies try to get kids addicted from a young age. Almost every baby food and snack I look at has sugar added to it. And just because it is “fructose” from fruit or it is “pure cane sugar” does not make it any better! It’s still processed, added sugar – and it’s getting your kids addicted.

There is no reason for sugar to be added to baby food, ever. Fortunately, new movements led by mums like you and me have led to new brands and food products being offered.  Today, you are more likely to find sugar-free baby food than even 2 or 3 years ago.

This is the good news: If we keep up the pressure, companies will produce less and less sugary products.

In fact, so much sugar is added to all our food that as adults we are not even aware of it. Our taste buds have been desensitized so that we get our “fix” without even knowing it. From mayonnaise to peanut butter, there is added sugar in it. There is no reason why the tomato sauce for our pizza or the dressing for our salad should contain so much sugar. Except that we – and our children – are addicted.

Cheerios nutrition facts and ingredientsUnfortunately, many parents don’t even realize how much sugar is in the cereal they give their kids!  Pull out a box of cheerios. The ingredients list reads:

Whole grain oats, modified corn starch, corn starch, sugar…

Sugar is, essentially, the third ingredient on the list!  Rice Krispies? No better.

Ingredients[edit] Rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, iron, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), niacinamide, vitamin A palmitate, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D.

The second ingredient is sugar! And there’s malt flavoring in there, too. Malt is made by a process that turns the starch in barley into sugar, so that’s also a hidden sweetener.  And these are just two of the simplest, “healthy” cereals, think about all the other foods your kids are eating.

And sugar comes in many forms. Simple carbohydrates like white rice and white flour break down directly into sugar in our bodies. That’s why your child probably prefers white bread over whole wheat – it is sweet – it fuels his addiction. A diet high in carbohydrates changes the biochemistry in your child’s brain in just the same way drugs do.*  Which is, incidentally, exactly the same way the brain reacts to added, processed, refined sugars.

If we want to be aware of the sugars we are feeding our kids, there is only one thing we can do: Resort to reading labels.

*Spring B, Chiodo J, et al. Carbohydrates, tryptophan, and behavior: A methodological review. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 102(2), Sep 1987, 234-256.

Keeping Kids Away from Sugar: Dealing with Criticism

Keeping Kids Away from Sugar: Dealing with Criticism

One might think it’s common knowledge that sugar is bad for kids, whether in terms of health, behavior, or teeth.  As such, one might expect that keeping kids away from sugar would be something to be lauded and admired.  But if you have decided to keep your kids away from this powdery white drug, you’ll soon find you were mistaken.

As a mum who keeps sugar completely out of her kids’ diets, I can tell you I’ve encountered my fair share of criticism.  My brother-in-law has even made a huge scene in front of my husband’s family when I refused to allow my toddler, who had only just turned 2, to chow down on chocolates and candies.  Sometimes criticisms like this are made loudly and publicly, which could lead to some embarrassment.  If you decide to cut sugar from your kids’ diets, make sure you know your facts and feel confident in your decision, as you should!

Remember, you are their parent and you have the right to make parenting decisions for your kids!  As I told my brother-in-law (in front of his entire family, no less), when he has his own kids, he can choose to feed them whatever he wants.  But he has no right to say anything about the way I choose to raise my children.  I carried them in my womb for 9 months and since the birth of my first son, I have not had even one single day off from being a mum.  Nobody on this planet can possibly care about my kids more than I do and nobody has the right to tell me that by choosing not to give them sugar, I am doing something wrong.

After all. the most common criticism I get is that I am depriving my kids. Of course I am! But depriving them of what?  When people say that I am depriving my kids, they think that because my kids don’t get store-bought candies, cookies, and cakes, I am somehow taking something away from their childhood.  And they’re right – I am taking something away.  Quite a few somethings. I am taking away disease. I am taking away tooth decay. I am taking away uncontrollable bad behavior. I am taking away addiction.

If anybody ever tells you that by disallowing your kids sugar you are depriving them, tell them they are right! And make sure they know exactly what your kids are missing out on.

People also often seem to think it’s wrong for kids to see other people eating something and for them to be told by a parent that they cannot have it.  In this day and age, this is the criticism that baffles me most.  After all, allergies and dietary restrictions have become commonplace.  You won’t hear someone criticized for not allowing their celiac child to have bread when all the other kids are eating sandwiches!  I also get this criticism a lot when it comes to me not allowing my kids to eat meat.  But I never get this criticism when it comes to my decision to keep kosher.

There seems to be a strange dichotomy when it comes to food choices that are bound by religious or allergy restrictions versus those choices bound by, well, choice.  My motivations all have to do with health.  For me, deciding to do something to stay healthy is a motivation that should really be respected.  I mean, don’t we all want to be healthy? Don’t we all want to keep our kids healthy?

I’ve thought about this for a long time and I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to do with a certain human psychology of judgment.  I’ve seen it a lot in other situations and the connection here is clear as day to me.  When someone does something that you know, deep down, you ought to be doing, you feel guilty, bad, or wrong for not doing what you know you should.  Those are uncomfortable feelings to confront and the vast majority of us do not want to own those feelings and that space.  The natural reaction, then, is to lash out at the cause of our discomfort: the person who is doing the thing we see as judgmental.

Take the example of my brother-in-law, for instance.  He doesn’t always eat the healthiest diet and he isn’t in the best overall health for his age.  On the other hand, my husband (his brother), myself, and our kids are all in fantastic health, largely due to the incredibly healthy diet we all maintain.  Perhaps when I refused to allow my toddler to eat sugary candies and chocolates, he saw it as a judgment of his own poor diet.  He knows he shouldn’t be shoveling down the chocolates, but he’s doing it anyway.  Even though judging him for his behavior never entered my mind for even an instant, it did enter his mind, and that’s what counts.

Is this fair? Well, perhaps not, but it is normal and it is the way of the world.  It’s the reason why a friend eating a fatty unhealthy steak dinner almost invariably pokes fun of my healthy salad for dinner.  It’s the reason why as someone who is religious I have been put down by secular people for my beliefs.  Virtually all of us do this in some arena or another.  When we feel insecure and we know we are not doing what is best for us to do, we feel confronted when we see someone doing something that takes courage, verve, and confidence we simply do not have.

I find that when I am criticized for my decisions to keep my kids healthy, whether that means keeping them away from sugar or keeping them away from meat, I keep this understanding of basic human psychology to the forefront of my mind.  The criticism does not mean I am doing something wrong – to the contrary, criticism means I am doing something right.

Are your Kids Addicted to Sugar?

Are your Kids Addicted to Sugar?

Think about it… are your children hooked on sugar? Do they crave it? Will they do naughty things to get their hands on sugar?  If so, they probably are actually addicted to sugar.

This about it… We have all heard the phrase, “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” but we have never heard anyone say, “Who stole the carrot from the refrigerator?”!   Why should kids be tempted to take things that don’t belong to them? Kids today are not starving, so they don’t take from the cupboards because they need to, but because they want to. Just like any drug addict, your kids will be motivated to do whatever they have to in order to get their “fix.”

I like to think that I was a pretty good child, and I’m sure my parents would agree. Yet, I have some memories from my childhood of doing things that certainly were not very good, and they were all in pursuit of sugar.

The one and only time my mother caught me stealing from a store, it was a grocery store, and I had taken a couple of pieces of candy. I had stolen one for me and one for my best friend. I certainly wasn’t stealing broccoli or lettuce!

Another time, a friend’s mother told us not to take any candy from some boxes she had. Of course we snuck in and took some. We really enjoyed eating it, until we got caught and got in trouble! I was a very sensitive child and I hated getting in trouble, so what could have motivated me to do such a thing? Sugar, of course!

And I remember watching my brother with his stash of Halloween candies. I would carefully ration mine out (and often hide the best pieces in my bedroom, where they were definitely not allowed to be, in order to have some whenever I wanted, and to keep them away from potentially thieving hands) but my brother would gobble his down in a matter of days or weeks, no matter how much he had.

And why is it that kids will throw a tantrum in the supermarket over sugary foods? You might see a kid crying for a candy bar or a box of sugary cereal, but you never see a kid screaming and crying in the aisles because mom and dad refuse to buy them a jar of pickles!

All of these things are because sugar is literally an addictive substance.  it actually acts like a drug.* Brains respond the same way to both opiates and sugar, creating dependence and cravings.**

Of course, none of us want to give our kids drugs!  But because sugar is not regulated, we assume it can’t be that bad.  After all, even legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco are regulated. Sugar is not.  And even if we know it is not healthy, we most likely do not know that it is actually addictive!

Even sugar cane in its unrefined state has a lot of healthy nutrients to offer, but modern refinement methods remove all of these and leave us with sugar, which the body reacts to as a drug.

Even sugar cane in its unrefined state has a lot of healthy nutrients to offer, but modern refinement methods remove all of these and leave us with sugar, which the body reacts to as a drug.

I refuse to give my kids sugary foods.  If I do want to give them a sweet treat, it will come sweetened with a natural sweetener, like honey, agave syrup, date syrup, or maple syrup.  These natural sweeteners contain beneficial vitamins and minerals, which in fact, sugar cane juice also does, in its unrefined state.

All of this is, of course, important food for thought.  Are you giving your kids sugary foods? Could they be addicted to this substance?

Share your thoughts and your comments below!

* Avena, N.M., Rada, P., Hoebel B.G., 2007. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32(1), 20-39.

** Rudolph Spangler, Knut M Wittkowski, Noel L Goddard, Nicole M Avena, Bartley G Hoebel, Sarah F Leibowitz, Opiate-like effects of sugar on gene expression in reward areas of the rat brain, Molecular Brain Research, Volume 124, Issue 2, 19 May 2004, Pages 134-142, ISSN 0169-328X.

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Recently I bought my kids (or possibly myself) a new present.  Reusable pouches!

Pouches of pureed fruit, vegetables, and yogurt abound in the stores now.  They are so much better than the traditional jars of baby food or cups of applesauce because they create no mess, they are easy to just toss in a purse or bag on the go, and they don’t require a spoon.  The biggest problems I have with the store-bought ones are that they are quite expensive and I can’t control the ingredients.  The fact that they create a lot of garbage into our landfills also bothers me.

Little Green Pouch with ways to fill it

Reusable pouches accomplish the same benefits but without any of those pesky downsides.  The only difficult thing for some mums to consider is the added amount of time they add to your day.  After all, you have to create something to fill them with, fill them, and wash them.  But really, I don’t think this creates all that much extra work.  If you buy ones that are dishwasher safe (like the Little Green Pouch I bought) they won’t really create extra work for you.  And you can always fill them with something easy like extra smoothie.  Really, tossing an extra banana and handful of strawberries in your blender in the morning won’t take you more than a few seconds.  Plus, filling the pouches (if you get the right kind, like the Little Green Pouch) is really easy.  Fill them with a spoon, a funnel, or a small pitcher. Whatever is easiest for you.  The best part is that if you have extra you can fill the pouches and then store them in the freezer until you need them.

Little Green Pouch full and empty, with the yogurt and pureed fruit I put inside

Yesterday I tried them out for the first time.  Firstly, they are very easy to fill.  I filled some using a spoon so I could make a mix of homemade plain yogurt and pureed fruit.  My mom filled some with just pureed fruit by pouring it in from the glass jars I use to store extra smoothie.

Akiva drinking from his Little Green Pouch

I rarely buy the pre-made pouches in the store, so my toddler already recognizes them as a special treat.  So when I offered him one for the first time, I’m pretty sure he would have eaten it no matter what it contained, so excited he was.   In fact, I couldn’t stop him from sucking on it even long enough to tell me if he liked it.  I guess that’s a good review!  (When he was done, he asked if he could eat his brother’s!)

In the process of filling the Little Green Pouch

I’ve also tried washing one in the dishwasher and it came out perfectly clean.  They will last better and longer with hand washing, but I am a sucker for convenience and doing dishes is at the top of my list of things I’d rather avoid doing.

The Little Green Pouch

I also filled some with pureed fruit and popped them in the freezer, where they are happily awaiting future use.

I give the Little Green Pouch a big thumbs up and I’m looking forward to using them all the time!

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy on the Holidays?

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy on the Holidays?

Oh, the holidays…!  A wonderful time filled with family, presents, and lots and lots of food.  Is it even possible to keep kids eating healthy when they’re surrounded by constant Christmas treats?

The first thing to consider is what you have control over.  If your child is in school or going to friends’ houses you have less control, so the best thing you can do is to educate them.  Sit down and talk to them about the holidays and the challenges they might face with unhealthy food being constantly on offer.  Ask them how they feel about it and make sure they understand how those foods affect them.  You can discuss things such as examples of how those foods make them feel or how those foods cause them to behave.

The next strategy is simply to compromise.  It’s important to make sure your kids are eating healthy food, but you also do not want them to be unhappy or resentful.  The goal is to inspire your kids to want to eat healthy food.  If you talk to them and rejecting all those sweets at school and at parties is something they really cannot or do not want to do, try your best to come to a compromise both of you can handle, such as only having one small piece of cake or one small piece of candy each day.  Most kids during the holiday season are stuffing their faces with special treats, so finding a limit you both can live with is really the best way to go about it.  Of course, the obvious goal is to have a child who doesn’t want to eat these foods, but let’s be realistic!

You can also find alternative treats.  For instance, I make my own ice cream and sorbet at home.  I can make a fantastic frozen yogurt with no added sugar and my kids will be happy and won’t ask me for other ice cream.  I also make healthy oatmeal cookies and banana cake.  By making (or buying) healthy alternatives to the usual sweets, your kids can enjoy something special on the holidays while you don’t have to worry.

Finally, pay attention to what you’re eating.  Are you wolfing down chocolates when you think nobody is looking? Do you have sweets and cakes in the kitchen or around the house “for guests”?  If so, your kids will notice and want some, too.  But if you just do not have unhealthy stuff in your house and your kids don’t see you or your partner eating them, they are less likely to want them.  Remember, you are your child’s biggest role model.

I wish you all happy holidays and healthy, inspired kids!

Recipe: Super Green Smoothie

Recipe: Super Green Smoothie

Smoothies are one of my favorite family breakfasts.  They’re delicious, nutritious, and it’s so easy to make a big enough batch to satisfy everyone.

The best thing is that fruit comes in all colors.  Make a red smoothie with red fruit, a yellow smoothie with yellow fruit, and so on. And when you’re making a smoothie with green fruit, it’ll come out green.  Add some greens into it and it’ll still be green – and your kids will never know.

A pile of organic kiwi fruit

Today I had a surplus of overripe kiwi fruits perfect for making a smoothie.  Any green fruits can go into a green fruit smoothie – green apples, green grapes, etc. But my personal favorite is kiwi fruit.  They have just the right balance of sweet and tart, and they give a gorgeous color.  Plus, their flavor is distinctive enough that it drowns out the added greens.

Green smoothie in the blender ready to blend

I stuck everything in the blender and let it go for a minute or two. And voila! I have the perfect smoothie, in a big enough size to feed myself, my kids, and a hungry husband.

Green smoothie blending

Kids will love it because it’s sweet and they will never know it is chock full of greens. A good way to get fresh raw greens into your kids!

Akiva drinking his delicious green smoothie

Here’s how to make your own Super Green Smoothie:


10 organic kiwi fruits
2 organic avocados
2 organic passionfruit
2 frozen bananas
1 bunch of Swiss chard (silverbeet), stems removed
Juice of 3 apples


  1. Wash and/or peel all ingredients.
  2. Dump them all in the blender and blend.
  3. Enjoy!

Akiva excited about his delicious green smoothie

I know my kids enjoyed and I hope yours will, too!

Packing a Healthy Lunch (for a trip to the zoo!)

Packing a Healthy Lunch (for a trip to the zoo!)

We’re going to the zoo today!  My parents are visiting, so there will be 3 generations going to see the animals.  I can’t wait!  Our kids love seeing the animals and at our local zoo they are really well cared for.

But what to pack for lunch? Of course the kids will have breakfast before they go, but then they need morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack. (And probably another snack or two in there! My kids are good eaters.) We’re planning on doing a beach day later this week, too, so I’ll be packing a couple of meals for big outings this week. What to pack?

The most important thing is, of course, for it to be healthy! But I also want a few treats thrown in to make this zoo day with the grandparents even more fun (and also to have on hand in case I need to bribe them to behave or quiet them down – parenting tactics I’ll admit to using!).  So I need a good balance between healthy and tasty.

The first order of business is lunch. For my main course for the kids, I’ll turn to the trusty sandwich. Sandwiches are quite possibly the best on-the-go meal for kids (although banana-oat pancakes come in a close second!).  For my boys I’ve selected a whole grain black Russian bread.  I’ll admit it’s not homemade, but some day I will master the art of making it at home and I’ll tell you all about it!  I’ve decided on peanut butter sandwiches using 100% pure organic peanut butter.  I don’t want to use jam or jelly, as they are almost always full of sugar.  When I figure out a way to make one sugar-free, I’ll post that, too! Until then, my boys don’t mind a plain peanut butter sandwich, especially when it’s on black bread.  My toddler calls it “chocolate bread,” bless his heart!

If you're making a sandwich, be sure to pick the healthiest whole-grain bread you can find - choose one your kids enjoy. Today there are seemingly infinite options.  Then pick a healthy filling.  100% pure organic nut butter is great. Make sure the peanut butter you're using has only one ingredient: peanuts! Kids do not need salt, sugar, or oil added to their peanut butter. If your kids are allergic to peanuts, try almond butter. If they're allergic to nuts, consider a filling like coconut butter. Or, if you have Aussie kids like I do, Vegemite!

If you’re making a sandwich, be sure to pick the healthiest whole-grain bread you can find – choose one your kids enjoy. Today there are seemingly infinite options. Then pick a healthy filling. 100% pure organic nut butter is great. Make sure the peanut butter you’re using has only one ingredient: peanuts! Kids do not need salt, sugar, or oil added to their peanut butter. If your kids are allergic to peanuts, try almond butter. If they’re allergic to nuts, consider a filling like coconut butter. Or, if you have Aussie kids like I do, Vegemite!

With the sandwich out of the way, I had to consider a side dish and some snacks. Of course, fruit!  I keep a couple of apple slicer/corers handy so there’s always a (clean) one around when I’m looking for it.  Apples and pears can be sliced into easy-to-hold slices and with a sprinkle of lemon juice won’t brown. Apples are hard enough they won’t smush even in a ziplock bag, but softer fruits like pears need to go in a box or snack cup.  We use Munchkin Snack Catchers, Snack Cups, which, at just $6 for two of them, are worth far more to me than I paid for them.  I find them perfect for small, bite-sized fruits and veggies like berries or grape tomatoes.  Or for grapes. This weekend, I happened to get my hands on some gorgeous grapes, so dark they look almost black.  Just think of all the antioxidants they contain! And, best of all, my kids love them. Today’s snack is definitely going to be grapes.

Midnight black grapes

Now, I just have to fill out the rest of my snacking repertoire! In case the kids are extra hungry at lunch, I added some cheese omelet.  Omelets travel well and are delicious cold. They can also be cut into easy sizes for kids to hold and munch on.   Because we’re vegetarian and I don’t really like nuts (a taste I am slowly trying to acquire) we do tend to eat quite a lot of eggs as a main protein. I also put in some French toast, made with homemade raisin bread. That’s a treat! Instead of sweetening it as some people do, my mom adds a drop of pure vanilla essence, which has the effect of making it taste sweeter without actually being sweetened.  The raisins also add an element of sweetness.  For more special treats (and backup bribery), I also included some whole wheat sesame rings, 100% pure fruit leather, and a mozzarella stick.  Our kids get very little dairy but they love it, so for each of them half a cheese stick would be a fantastic treat.

A healthy kids' lunch for our trip to the zoo

Voila! A healthy lunch with lots of healthy snacks for eating all day long.  My kids will have plenty of energy and will be happy as can be. Now, I’m off to the zoo!

Derech HaTeva: A Case Study of How Food Impacts Kids’ Behavior

Derech HaTeva: A Case Study of How Food Impacts Kids’ Behavior

I’ve mentioned before how diet can impact behavior, and how it impacts behavior in children more than in adults.  Most of us have seen the comparison between a kid who eats lots of candy and one who’s eaten a heavy, meaty meal.  But it may not be so common to compare behavior between kids who eat healthy diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and those who eat fatty, sugary foods devoid of nutritional benefits.  Some teachers or others who work closely with diverse groups of students may have seen this firsthand, but even many people in these professions are dealing with fairly homogenous groups of kids.  Often, kids attending the same classes come from similar backgrounds both socioeconomically and educationally.  Thus it would not be uncommon to have a class where the vast majority of the students (if not all the students) are eating a similar diet.  And many teachers do not have the time or wherewithal to inspect each student’s food choices at school and at home.

As a mum, my exposure is primarily to my own children, and to their friends.  Of course, their friends (as they are still very young) are determined by my own friendships.  If I find another mum and strike up a friendship, it is likely that we have things in common, and one of those is highly likely to be an interest in healthy food and healthy kids’ diets.  Therefore, even as a mum who pays close attention to the food my children and their friends consume, I do not often have a strong and sustained basis for comparison.

Children at play in a fountain full of ballsOf course I do see other children at the parks, playgrounds, and play groups whose parents make radically different food choices.  But this is not a fair basis for comparison.  Behavioral patterns must be established over a period of time, so a “snapshot” of a child’s behavior at a given time is insufficient.  Food is, clearly, not the only impact on a child’s behavior.  We all have “good” days and “bad” days. We all have days when we’re feeling ill or when someone has hurt our feelings. We all have days when we get really lucky or when someone has given us a great compliment.  Children are no different. We cannot simply look at a child’s behavior on a given day and attribute it to their diet.  However, in the long run it is possible to establish patterns and causation, on an observational, if not scientific level.

To my mind, this is the problem with some scientific studies that show sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.  I have read several studies that claim this and they all seem to have the same design flaw: they give children either a high dose of sugar drink or a sweet placebo. Then they observe their behavior. But this does not take into account long-term behavioral patterns in individual children.  A very retiring child who consumes sugar might exhibit hyperactivity but to a researcher who does not know that child’s normal behavioral patterns it may simply appear to be normal energetic behavior.  Also, these children may be more constrained in new environments. Or their parents may have previously admonished them to behave.  There are a plethora of factors not controlled for in these studies, which is why those of us who have or work with children all agree that kids who eat lots of sugary foods tend to behave in a more uncontrolled fashion, even though scientific studies might claim they don’t.

Derech-hateva-Camel-Trip-in-Desert-1024x768My husband saw the effects of food on children’s behavior firsthand a couple of years ago. He led a group of a dozen teenaged boys on a month-long trip called Derech HaTeva (“Nature’s Path”), hiking through mountains, forests, and deserts. All the kids were given the same rations, but they could trade amongst themselves and with the trip leaders. Thus, a boy could trade his ration of fruit for another boy’s ration of chocolate. He could trade his ration of whole grain oatmeal for another boy’s ration of white flour.

All the boys had to contribute to building and setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, and packing, in addition to hiking many hours a day, and doing learning sessions with group leaders. They rotated chores so that every boy spent some time during the trip doing everything, whether pleasant or unpleasant. My husband quickly noticed that certain boys would eat lots of certain foods, and would always trade for the same ones. He also noticed patterns of behavior that seemed to correlate – eerily – depending on what kind of diet each boy was eating.

The boys who ate lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains were always first up in the mornings. They set to their chores with enthusiasm and speed and were often finished with enough time to help others, or to go off on their own to meditate, pray, or relax. These boys were healthy, had lots of stamina on hikes, and did not exhibit any health issues, either mental or physical. On the other hand, the boys who ate lots of sugar, white flour, and other highly processed foods were tired and slow. They had to be prodded awake in the mornings and were surly and negative about the chores they had to do. Their energy was limited to the time period just after a meal, then they would crash and have no energy at all until the next meal.  Most of them were on medication of one kind or another.

After spending a month observing the same persistent behavior in these boys, my husband concluded that this was more than just coincidence: it was correlation.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have been able to observe children with very different nutritional backgrounds for an extended period of time? If so, what did you observe?