Category Archives: Healthy Food

How to choose breakfast cereals for kids

There are so many cereals to choose from! Here are some label-reading tips to help us make good decisions for our kids.

What makes a healthy breakfast cereal for kids?

Breakfast is an essential start to the day; it refuels children’s brains as well as their bodies. Cereals with milk provide carbohydrate, some protein, B vitamins, fibre and calcium. Add fruit to that and there’s more fibre plus a wider range of vitamins and minerals.

It’s unlikely you’ll need added vitamins and minerals in a cereal if you’re eating a balanced diet which includes fruit, vegetables and cereals as well as meat or other protein foods, as they will provide vitamins and minerals in a form more readily absorbed by the body.

Sugar

Earlier this year, Consumer magazine compared 26 breakfast cereals specifically aimed at children and found that over half of them were at least 1/3 sugar.

Often the excuse is that people are just going to add sugar at home anyway, but that’s really no excuse at all; we should be given the choice. High amounts of sugar in the diet are related to tooth decay as well as overweight and obesity, which is on the increase amongst our children.

Look for products with less than 15g of sugar per 100g, or if they contain dried fruit up to 25g per 100g.

Sodium

It’s best not to give children foods with high amounts of sugar or sodium as ‘everyday foods’ as they’ll become accustomed to these tastes. For children (and adults other than those on a low-sodium diet) look for a moderate sodium content of up to 400mg per 100g.

Fibre

For adults, breakfast cereals are often an opportunity to increase a low fibre intake, but kids don’t need as much fibre in their diet. Look for a cereal with more than 5g of fibre per 100g but no more than 15g.

In the past a rule of thumb for kids fibre needs (in grams) was to use their age and add five, but with the latest dietary recommendations you’ll need to add ten to the child’s age.

Easy dishes you can cook outdoors with the kids

Ah, summer is finally here and with the long, light nights it’s the perfect time to cook outdoors.

Nothing says holidays like the smell of grilling fare wafting across the neighbourhood, or if you’re extra blessed, the beach!
And although barbecues have long been the domain of the butcher and the dad, there are lots of other foods that magically transform once they hit the grill. My boys still aren’t big fans of steamed asparagus but will happily fight me for my share if it’s straight off the barbecue, lightly seasoned with herbs and olive oil.
Even better, maybe this is the year where the kids nudge Dad aside and take ownership of part of the hot plate. So many foods can be prepped partially, even by the youngest of kids. There’s nothing that gets kids more enthusiastic about eating than making it themselves.

Veggies

Oh yes, the multi-coloured stuff really comes alive outside in a way that we struggle to replicate in the kitchen!
  1. Roasted mushrooms – grab ones with a decent cap and fill with garlic, butter, herbs, grated parmesan or drizzle with olive oil and a shake of salt.
  2. Pumpkin or kumara – slice and add crumbled feta or salt and pepper and cook until it goes soft and super sweet.
  3. Corn – summer brings corn on the cob .. ooh yeah! Add some butter and twist in foil or char lovingly directly on the grill.   Even better find some dinosaur or cartoon cob holders to get the kids excited and let them eat straight from the barbecue.
  4. Tomatoes – when they are in season they are so sweet. A splash of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar or a hit of fresh basil and suddenly you’re in Southern Europe!
  5. Eggplant, courgette, asparagus and artichokes are often thought of as more “adult friendly” veg but chuck them on the barbecue and they become crispy and charred and fabulous. You can add olive oil, bacon, cheese or sauces to take them to the next level.
  6. Kebabs – what is it about a skewer that makes food that much more desirable? Load up some soaked sticks with capsicum, cherry tomatoes, carrots and add cubes of meat, feta or pineapple. Often combining a favourite with something not so special helps it all disappear.
  7. Lettuce – yes, you heard correctly! Often the texture of green leaves is off-putting for young kids but give it a quick char on the barbecue, add a special dressing and some crumbled bacon and you’re away. Or wilt some spinach or kale and add garlic, butter and some grated parmesan.
  8. Stuffed veg – avocados, mini capsicums or even mild chillies for the adventurous can be filled with cheese or rice or herbs and then cooked lovingly until they are charred and oozy and delicious. Kids can choose their favourite fillings or add a cocktail stick/paddle pop and paper sail to make “boats”.
  9. Potatoes – who doesn’t like crispy potatoes? Or little chunks of potato covered in butter with herbs and wrapped in silver foil. Then, the barbecue or a fire pit are perfect opportunities to create delicious jackets with soft insides and crispy skins.
  10. Stacks – build your own stacks are a marvellous way to get kids eating variety. Thinly slice a variety of veg, grill and then get the kids to put them together in the funkiest tower.

Fruit

Grilled summer fruits are amazing!
  1. Peaches, banana, pineapple, watermelon, kiwi are all delicious when roasted. Try in halves, sliced thinly and with glazes and herbs.
  2. Or skewer strawberries and grapes for dessert on a stick. Add a gooey marshmallow or a drizzle of chocolate at the end for a special treat.

Breakfast

It’s not just night that’s perfect for outside. Make use of the cool, early mornings and whip up some breakfast.
  1. Go traditional with sausages, bacon and eggs with a healthy side of roasted and wilted veg.
  2. Upgrade the muesli – place it in foil with a little oil or butter and toast on the grill. Add some charred summer fruits for a decadent, sweet burst.
  3. Grill some bread or make it French toast for a filling protein boost.
  4. Whip up a simple batter and viola – crepes!

Fish, seafood and more

Traditionally we think of barbecues as a meat fest and there are so many ways to transform a piece of lamb, pork, chicken or beef. However, we can put so many other things on the grill.
  1. Wrap fish in foil to steam or quickly sear directly on the hot plate for a lighter dinner.
  2. Grill other seafood like prawns, oysters, calamari, paua, octopus or scallops – if you’re lucky enough to score some!
  3. Char some tofu or tempeh for a light, vegetarian option.
  4. Roast cheeses like feta, haloumi or even whole brie (on a piece of bread or foil saves the barbecue plate!)
  5. Whip up rissoles, koftas, falafels or fritters. All are delicious cooked on the grill and it’s amazing what kids will eat if presented in a new way.
  6. Bruschetta – slice a French stick, rub with oil and garlic and char on the grill. Add chopped tomato, onion and basil or create your own unique toppings.
  7. Quesadilla, a tortilla filled with chopped veg, cheese and Mexican spices are delicious on the barbecue. Whip up a gozleme or go more traditional and make a quick pizza.
  8. Rice balls – use some precooked short-grain rice and form into a ball (with or without a filling) and then finish on the barbecue for a different outer texture. Use an Asian dipping sauce for full effect.
Add some simple salads, a range of sauces and dips and you have an amazing spread that will put the average sausage sizzle to shame!

Sugar – should we stop eating it?

Everyone’s talking about sugar at the moment. It comes in the wake of media reports of US researchers describing sugar as ‘toxic’, and stories of seemingly miraculous weight loss occurring when people cut all sugar from their diets.

At the most extreme end of the scale, several scientists have called for sugar to be regulated as a harmful substance like alcohol and tobacco. So should we all be getting on the no-sugar bandwagon?

It seems all nutrition experts agree that too much sugar – particularly the added sugar found in highly processed foods – is not good for anyone. But it’s useful to understand some context before we do anything extreme.

There is some interesting research going on into sugar and its effects. The findings so far seem to suggest, but not prove, a link between excessive sugar intake and chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes). Critics have pointed out that much of the research has been on animals, and both these and the few human studies have had subjects consuming vast amounts of sugar in forms that are not readily available in real life. Research is ongoing, and fascinating. But right now all the scientific community seems ready to agree on is that more research is needed.

In the meantime, what are we to make of the ‘cut out all sugar’ diets? Our experts agree it’s a good idea to minimise the added sugar in our diets, and doing this will almost certainly have an effect on weight, since sugary foods tend to be energy dense. This is especially true if you’re eating a lot of sugary foods and drinking sugary drinks to start with.  But demonising one particular food, no matter what it is, is not really helpful or sensible. The reasons people are overweight are complex, and rarely due to over-consumption of just one thing. And if we simply concentrate on eliminating one element from our diets without making sure the rest of what we eat is as good as it can be, we run the risk of being no healthier at all in the long run.

In health, as in many things in life, it is human nature to look for a magic solution; a quick fix. When it comes to weight loss we tend to love rules, and if they seem very simple – cut out all sugar – even better. It’s a lot simpler and more dramatic than ‘eat less and move more’, or ‘everything in moderation’. But I feel like we’ve been here before. Remember Atkins and the other low-carb diets? Or the extreme low-fat diets of the ‘80s? My feeling is that anything extreme is not sustainable, and we tend to end up back where we started, with the weight back on. Also worrying, is that cutting out all sugar is restrictive and difficult, and could encourage an unhealthy relationship with food. As happens when we concentrate on restricting anything in our diets, we focus on what we ‘can’t’ have.

What we do agree with the no-sugar advocates about is that sugary drinks are no-one’s idea of healthy food, and that a diet of fresh, whole foods with lots of colourful fruit and veges and a minimum of processed foods is ideal.

But long-term health – and keeping weight off long term – is not about avoiding one food completely. It is about eating a wide variety of good food, in reasonable portion sizes, every single day for the rest of your life. Get everything else right, and a small sweet treat occasionally is not going to kill you.