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Why Are We Feeding Our Kids So Much Junk?

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Here's a news flash recently reported by USA Today: kids are eating too much sugar. Your kids, my kids and there are pretty serious consequences. (And let's not even talk about my own sweet tooth. Except we should, more on that in a minute.) This isn't a discussion about blame, though. I have two little ones myself and we all know it's an uphill battle from the start. These little rascals actually DO come out of the womb craving sugar and fat. Of course, it's all thanks to our ancestors who actually needed enough reserves to get by during lean times. The problem is that processed food -- yes, I'm talking about you, Goldfish crackers, Coke and every flavor of the Skittles rainbow -- isn't what Mother Nature had in mind. And she retaliates with a vengeance these days, as noted in the article.

A diet high in added sugars is linked to many poor health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The findings come at a time when a third of children in this country are overweight or obese.

Before we start pointing fingers at school lunches and vending machines, which certainly aren't helping in most cases, the article notes that the majority of these empty calories (63%) are actually consumed at home. Again, let's not waste time blaming each other or the economy (especially after reading this: "There was no difference in percent of calories from added sugar based on income level.") Obviously, our diets need improving and here comes the good news: it doesn't have to be so hard. Really.

Start with soda. Actually stop with soda. Full of nothing but calories, it's simply the worst. If there's one easy thing we can all do to raise healthier kids, it's this: don't buy soda. Don't get me wrong, and there are tons of other terrible-for-you foods on the market but you don't have to be a nutritionist to know this is a clear frontrunner on the list of things we simply don't need. But that's not all.

Soda consumption is high, but we shouldn't lose sight of the added sugars in foods such as muffins, cookies, sugar-sweetened cereals and pasta sauces," says Cynthia Ogden, senior author on the report and an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Many processed foods have added sugars. Those foods contribute more than the beverages.

When it comes to snacks and fast dinner ideas, we're all behind the eight ball these days. Tight budgets and too little time make it difficult to whip up fresh dishes every day but making even a few small changes might help big time. Here are a few low-sugar, full-flavor alternatives that work well for our family. Trust me, I'm in the trenches/kitchen every day trying to come up with stuff that won't end up on the floor and these are some of our biggest hits so far (and boy have there been misses, too). Most can be made ahead of time, frozen or partially prepped in advance, saving time (and whine) when you need it.

Breakfast Lunch Snacks Dinner Dessert
  • Fresh berries, pineapple or kiwi-or kabobs featuring all three
  • Low-sugar banana cake (a David Lebovitz recipe makeover)

Obviously there are tons of healthy recipe sources out there so if none of these strike your fancy, keep Googling.

But I think there's another important ingredient at work here: if the whole family eats healthy, it's easier for kids to develop a taste for foods that truly feed their bodies. This is coming from a fairly serious chocoholic married to a Doritos fan, so we're no saints. But we do eat dinner together every night as a family and it's almost always prepared from real, fresh ingredients. I've said this a few times and will probably drone on until the end of time with it (for which I apologize now and in advance and...), but eating healthy, delicious food together is just as important to me as any piano lesson or soccer practice will ever be. Maybe more so. Every family has their own choices to make but I can't say how gratifying it is to share a meal with our girls. From saying grace to talking through who did what today and clearing the table -- hopefully peppered with our 2-year-old's newest line "Mmm. This is a good meal!"-- it's one of my favorite parts of the day.

It sounds corny but we're trying to nourish them inside and out. Actually, maybe that's what it takes to beat the processed food and sugar trap these days, a corny, half-crazy determination to feed us all what we need.